Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Published: 2011, Tor Teen
Series: Anna, #1
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Library book
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We’re not children, neither of us. We don’t believe in fairy tales. And if we did, who would we be? Not Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty. I slice murder victims’ heads off and Anna stretches skin until it rips, she snaps bones like green branches into smaller and smaller pieces. We’d be the fricking dragon and the wicked fairy.
By reading Kendare Blake's novel I accomplished two things: first, I read a (pseudo) horror book, and second, I read a book for my school's YA book club and actually attended the meeting. Yay! I'm not a fan of anything remotely scary, but enough reviews reassured me that I'd be fine reading this book. And then I was able to discuss it with real people afterwards. Even though the book wasn't my favorite, it was entertaining enough and fit these two criteria, so reading it was time well spent.
Ever since his father died, Theseus Cassio Lowood has inherited the family profession: he seeks out ghosts and sends their spirits onward with the help of his athame. By removing ghost after ghost from the world of the living, Cas feels closer and closer to his ultimate goal: destroying the ghost that killed his father. Only one ghost remains in Cas' way before he thinks he'll find himself prepared enough to take on his father's killer: Anna Dressed in Blood.
When Cas, his mother, who is a traveling herb witch, and their cat Tybalt travel to Thunder Bay, Ontario to find Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas finds the challenge is a bit more difficult than he initially expected. Not only is he no match for Anna's incredible power, but Anna herself elicits much more of his sympathy than any other ghost, and he begins to form attachments to the inhabitants of Thunder Bay — both human and ghost.
It was incredibly refreshing to read a book from a male perspective. Although there certainly is not a lack of male narrators within literature in general, and perhaps not even much of a lack in YA books, I myself have not read too many. I found Cas to be a believable teenage boy, for which Blake should be commended. It's not easy to write a protagonist of the opposite gender, and Blake is able to successfully integrate her readers into Cas' head. Cas is cocky, arrogant, a bit self-righteous, yet he's also a bit insecure and ultimately simply wants to find a way to avenge his father. His multi-faceted characterization is well-drawn out.
Just as equally is the focus of this story on the titular character, Anna Dressed in Blood. As Cas and the readers come to learn, there are two sides to Anna's character. There's Anna Korlov, the young, innocent girl who was so brutally murdered in 1958 on the way to a school dance in her white dress. And then there's Anna Dressed in Blood, the vengeful ghost who kills every person that dares to enter her family house. Anna Dressed in Blood is a terror to behold, with blood dripping from her once white dress, veins blackened against her pale skin, and a fury within her eyes like nothing seen before. Yet she still retains the sweet and innocent girl inside of her. The dynamic between these two is fascinating, and the story that unfolds over Anna's transformation is tragic. Along with Cas, these two are by far the most interesting aspects of the novel.
Against the impressive and nuanced characterizations of Cas and Anna, however, all other aspects of this novel fall a bit flat. None of the remaining character are fleshed out to any degree. Carmel is not quite the stereotypical popular girl, but that seems only because she's willing to listen to Cas against all logic. Thomas is simply too flat to be seen as Cas' true "best friend." Mike, Will, and their friends are disappointingly stereotypical jocks. Cas' mother is given an interesting backstory, yet Blake doesn't really expand enough on her character to make her sympathetic. She's there for Cas, but over and over I found myself questioning just why she'd allow her son to work in the same profession that got her husband killed.
Cas and Anna's relationship, while easily one that readers can root for, still left me with a lot of questions. Why doesn't Cas instill the same murderous desire inside of Anna that every other living human does? What makes him so special? The fact that their relationship consisted of a human and a ghost didn't bother me too much, however, since Blake does show how lost and lonely each are individually, and how, through each other, they're able to find strength.
Worldbuilding is another area that does not seem sufficiently explained. Near the very beginning of the novel, Cas mentions how important his job as ghost hunter is, because the world is teeming with unhappy and restless souls. He specifically notes that no place is free of ghosts; but, if ghosts really are as prevalent as Cas claims, then how are people able to willfully ignore them? Are there more ghost hunters out there that Cas doesn't mention? I just did not understand the relationship between ghosts and humans in this world. Nor do I understand the mythology that Blake builds upon for her ghost-hunting culture. There are mentions of voodoo and witchcraft, yet I did not feel as though anything was explained substantially enough.
While I did not love this book and there are certainly many aspects that could use improvement, I enjoyed reading Anna Dressed in Blood and definitely plan on reading its sequel, Girl of Nightmares, in the near future.