Okay, as an writer myself, I feel terrible giving negative book reviews, so Stacia Kane, if you happen to run across this, avert your eyes, okay? Not every book will work for every reader. Lots of people like your books lots.
So, I was loaned this book by my friend Kirsten, who is both brilliant and an excellent judge of books usually, although she prefers the lighter end because life is depressing enough without reading too much serious literature. Which I can understand, and I am totally on board with what I call 'popcorn' books, especially in the summer. But that said, this did not work for me.
It did have some good elements. What I liked best, I think, was that the female protagonist, Cesaria, aka Chess, unabashedly has sex with someone because she feels like it, and finds him attractive, and likes him a bit, but doesn't see a future with him and that's actually a large part of why she's willing to have a fling with him. Just for fun. It's a series, so I'm guessing that will be complicated in later books, but it's just such a relief to see a woman getting to have sex without it needing to be her one true love. (It was particularly awesome in Tamora Pierce's Alanna series because when do you see that in YA? Never? And yet a lot of us had sex in our teens and afterwards with people who weren't our one true love, and who we didn't particularly expect to be.) I am particularly sensitized to this issue because my novel contracted with HarperCollins crashed and burned in large part due to this, but that is a lament for another day, my darlings. Suffice it to say, I liked it.
Of course, part of why Cesaria gets to do this is because she's a total druggie. Which is, in itself, also interesting, because how often do you have a protagonist who is strung out all the time? I mean, we saw it in some episodes of House for a while. It looks like the Royal Pains protagonist is about to develop a problem with pain pills too. There have been a few guys who get to be protagonist and seriously high. But I can't name any other women. (I'm sure there are some, but I haven't run across them yet. Maybe I'm reading the wrong books and watching the wrong shows.) She doesn't just take drugs, she takes all kinds of drugs and is in serious financial and other trouble as a result, and I think that's great.
But it does mean that the author gets more leeway, I think, to let Cesaria have casual sex. Because she's clearly troubled. Sigh. I hope that she doesn't just clean up her drug problem and then settle down with the love of her life in later books. Since I'm not going to read the later books, I may just go read the reviews and find out.
The third interesting thing is the world-building -- there's a really awesome concept with haunting and ghosts killing people and a new Church rising that can control the ghosts with magic and is really restrictive and doesn't believe in any gods. Cesaria's backstory, as an abused street kid who's found a place for herself as a witch of the Church and is just starting to question them by the end of this book is compelling and believable, so that's all good. And oh, her muddled relationship with the drug enforcer, Terrible, is surprisingly hot and touching.
So with so many good things, Mary Anne, why didn't you like it? And I have to say, I just found a lot of the prose dull. I found myself skimming over lots of pages, and I almost never skim. I especially skipped over all the magic battle stuff, which was long and tedious. Maybe you might like it; somehow it seemed very logistical and also not well explained, despite the length to it. There are lots of ghosts, and lots of rules, and lots that she can do, but it's not well understood, by her or anyone else, it seems. That just got to me.
I'm not sorry I read it, given the good stuff above, but I don't think I can trudge through another one. Popcorn is great, but I need a different flavor next time.