Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Series: Anna, book 1
Genre: Paranormal YA
Publisher: Tor Teen
Published: August 30, 2011
Summary: Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story. . .
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.
So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.
ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD was a fast-paced, creepy, well-told story. It reminded me–especially in the very beginning–of one of my favorite tv shows, Supernatural. And for a while (the first half of the book at least), it was kind of like many other ghost books in that the story seemed to be an above-average ghost-hunter-with-baggage-who-falls-for-one-of-his-dead-quarries job. (Perhaps this is not such a common plot exactly, now that I’m thinking about it? Hmm…well, the point is that it was very good but nothing off the charts.) It was better than most other paranormal stories, but there was not much atypical about it. Until about halfway through, that is, when business gets real. For the first half of the book, we’re lead to believe that the main event in this book is one thing; a little over halfway through, that thing takes place, and so I was left with that kind of excited anxiety that comes from a really well-done, but not wholly unrelated to the rest of the story, misdirection. In other books, this would have annoyed me majorly, but not here. After the “thing” takes place, the real events get going, and once they gather steam, they plow through the remainder of the book like a speeding train. And what’s great about it all is that, looking back on the story as a whole, the goings-on from the second half of the book are not the kind of surprises in a story that come completely out of nowhere–there are hints and little nods throughout the preceding chapters that piqued my thoughts. The true big bad in this book is not something or someone that we hadn’t already met or heard about. In fact, knowing that there is a second book in this series, I had initially thought that the what turns out to be the big bad in THIS book would actually be the main story of the NEXT book. But I’m so glad that my idea was a little off, because the last third of this book is bananas.
I know I haven’t said much about the characters yet, but they were all great. Cas is awesome, and his family and friends are quirky, loyal, brave, smart, and kick-ass. I loved that this wasn’t just a ghost story either; much of the story revolves around witchcraft and voodoo as well, and I can’t even begin to say how much I enjoyed those parts, especially the CREEPYPANTS voodoo business. Wow. Some of the jock guys that Cas meets at his new highschool were a little bit flat, but I don’t think they were meant to be anything more important than that, so I can’t–and don’t–have a problem with it. Anna, the ghost, was a really interesting character. By turns sweet and sad, and angry and bitter. She’s volatile enough that even when you think one thing about her, you always know in the back of your mind that she’s capable of very bad things, and so in that way she’s a little bit of a wild card, which turns out to be important in the end. Her relationship with Cas was a little meh, but to me it wasn’t the main aspect of the story so I’ll let it slide for now. It bloomed into something apparently serious pretty quickly and without much…feeling, maybe. Without much evidence of something serious taking root; it kind of just became. It wasn’t bad though. MINI-SPOILER: It was a tiny bit odd-seeming at the end, though, when Anna is in a kitchen helping Cas’s mom with some witchy business and they are talking to each other like Anna and Cas have been dating for all of high school and Mrs. Lowood (did we ever learn her name?) LOVES her to pieces. No one seemed to question their relationship even a little, which is neither here nor there, I guess, but it did seem like one of those relationships that happens quickly, especially given that most of the time they spend together in the beginning is Cas trying to find a way to kill Anna–not exactly flirt central–and the time they DO spend together is kept to a few conversations they have at Anna’s house before things go bananas at the end of the book. If nothing else, it didn’t seem to me like they had enough time to get serious.
The one thing that I will say I noticed in a way that eventually made me “tsk” a little was this: a little too frequently for my taste, things were explained away as “I don’t know how I know but I just DO.” Which is a nonexplanation. It happened quite a bit but, I think, not because there IS no explanation, rather because we see this story from Cas’ point of view, and so there are some unexplained things simply because HE doesn’t know them. In the end, I thought a few of those things made more sense to me, but only because I think we were meant to read between the lines a little bit. There’s nothing explicit.
A few more little tidbits: the author commits one of my personal biggest turn-offs in books that, emotionally, I have a hard time dealing with, whether it’s on a big scale or, as in this book, very small. Still, after finishing this book earlier, I can’t think of this story and all the crazy, creepy things that happened without remembering that the author did this one thing and how it made me sad…ok, fine. I’ll tell you: She kills the cat. I can’t handle it when authors kill animals, especially pets, especially pets like Tybalt, who was special in a witchy kind of way. Poor thing :-(. Also, there’s some varsity swearing in this book, just as an FYI. I personally loved it because it made Cas’s voice seem so real, but just as a “hey, just so you know” there’s definitely some s***s and f***s peppered throughout. Finally, for me personally–and please forgive me if this seems insignificant–Carmel’s name bugged me. This is because I had a very difficult time reconciling the cute, popular, blond teenager in this book with my 80-year-old great aunt of the same name. Clearly, the Carmel in this book is not an aging Italian woman. It was just one of those seemingly small things that are particular to every reader and cause a little hitch in their giddy-up as they read. Carmel’s name was exactly that for me. Plus…she didn’t seem like a Carmel to me, given my association with that name. (I’ve had this silly issue before, with Jenny Han’s Summer books. Belly < Bells or Isabelle in a big way.)
ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD was the perfect book to read around Halloween. Good amounts of creepy, gross, and freaky with good, believable characters and a legitimately shiver-inducing baddy. While not without some little faults, I really can’t wait to get my hands on book number 2.