Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake

September 14, 2011 at 10:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Theseus Cassio Lockwood is a fairly typical teenager. He likes to talk to cute girls, surf the web, hunt and dispatch ghosts…Okay, maybe not a typical teenager. After his father was murdered by a ghost, Cas took up his athame and contacts. Now he and his mother, a white witch, travel from place to place so he can dispatch the ghosts that claim people’s lives, honing his skills until- unbeknownst to his mother- he can go after the one that got his dad. He figures one more ghost and he’ll be ready.
But Anna Dressed in Blood is unlike any ghost he’s ever heard of before, posssessed of strange powers and the deep compulsion to tear apart any who enter her house. And this time, Cas won’t be able to do it alone.
Even though he’d really, really like to.

When I was in elementary school, maybe even into middle school, I used to sit at the back of the bus with friends on field trips and take turns reading aloud from Steven Schwartz’ Scary Stories collections. Especially when we were traveling at night, or when the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts (I was both, believe it or not) were settled in for the night on camp outs. Read during the day or by the wrong people, there was something incredibly cheesy- and therefore side-splittingly funny- about those stories, but at night, in the hands of the right kind of reader, they would scare us spitless. (And then, of course, there would always be that one kid who started crying and ran to the teachers/chaperones/scoutmasters and ruined it for everyone until they actually started forbidding the books on trips)

When I picked up Anna Dressed in Blood, that’s kind of what I was expecting. Something a little scary, a little cheesy, a way to pass an afternoon but not something to linger.

Dear Lord, was I ever wrong.

Step back for a moment to just look at the book. Isn’t that a great cover? It’s eerie and intriguing, with just the right amount of color to it, slightly spooky without trying too hard. Then you open to the first page…and the writing is in red. Dark red, so it’s not hard on the eyes (think the same color red as Forever by Maggie Stiefvater) but definitely red. Given the amount of blood in the book, that was a brilliant choice, one that really helps set the mood.

Cas narrates for us, teaching us a lot about his world of ghosts without too many info dumps. Ghosts are a part of his everyday life, not just the ability to see them, but also to know whether they’re harmless (the old lady who visits her grave but never hurts anyone) or…you know, dangerous. He gets the spirit world. It’s the human world he’s less connected to. People are sources of information, obstacles to be worked around, or- worst case scenario- victims. He has contacts, not friends, and he likes it that way. Much to his mother’s chagrin.

Then comes Thunder Bay and a totally different set-up. His usual MO is to find the queen bee in each new school, finagle his way into a steady source of gossip about the local ghosts, and get the job done as quickly as possible. This queen bee, Carmel, is surprisingly real and down-to-earth, with a jealous ex-boyfriend more than willing to try and scare Cas with the locak spook stories. Then there’s Thomas, a school outcast with mild telepathy and black witch skills. (Don’t let the name fool you; black magic refers to the skill set, not the good-evil alliance).

The jealous ex gives Cas exactly the opportunity he needs to see Anna Dressed in Blood for the first time, and that introduction does not go well. He escapes with his life, as well as some gashes and bruises, but he’s the lucky one.

Still, Anna Korlov is unlike anything Cas has encountered, and her existence and her powers go against everything he’s learned to expect. In order to dispatch Anna, he’s going to have to figure out who killed her and how, and what else they did.

As a narrator, Cas is a fun one to ride along with. Sometimes his voice gets a little old (like when he describes a young woman as havin a future in owning a ton of sweaters and a house full of cats), something we especially see in how he describes his mother. He loves his mother and is very aware of both her support for her and her weaknesses since his father died, but that very understanding is rather unique for a teenager, and sometimes comes off as a little too perceptive. There’s no question that his father’s death made Cas decide to grow up fast, but there’s a difference between growing up by tackling a hard duty and simply sounding too old.

The other main characters make for a charmingly eclectic bunch. Carmel has all the social skills of the queen bee and the sense of reality of a plucky heroine, along with the ‘what the hell is going on’ vulnerability that gives her just a hint of the damsel in distress that Thomas would dearly love to rescue. Thomas himself is adorably scruffy, kind of like the shaggy puppy you really want to take home and feed and bathe- and then adopt as a pet. Thomas’ grandfather gives some well-earned words of wisdom about their ventures, while Cas’ mother maintains a steady reserve of worried confidence. If that sounds like a contradiction, trust me, it isn’t. Tybalt is a strong character in his own right, and rather reminds me of my roommate’s cat. Very selective ownership, selective dignity, selective affection…in other words, a cat.

And then there’s Anna. Anna is…Anna is…Anna is rather hard to describe without giving things away. She’s amazing. She’s complicated and multi-faceted, and she absolutely draws you in to her world. As invested as we become into the story, we become even more invested in Anna.

The story is by turns tense, sweet, wry, ridiculous, terrifying, dark, and- in some ways- incredibly uplifting. To speak too much to the details is to risk spoilers, and I don’t want to ruin anything for you.

Just…don’t read it alone at night, okay?

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Check it out!

Until next time~

1 Comment

  1. Lucy said,

    I totally agree with your review. This book was a lot of fun! You are so right in your description of the Anna character. She certainly does draw you in. Can’t wait for the sequel.

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