Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood Book Cover Anna Dressed in Blood
Kendare Blake

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 house she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

Review:

Now that I’ve finally, at long last, tracked down a copy of Anna Dressed in Blood – I swear the library must have been hiding it from me – I’m pleased to report that it’s just as wonderful as everyone told me it would be. Anna Dressed in Blood grabbed my attention from the get-go, and I was both creeped out and entertained from beginning to end.

The fact that I was entertained, in spite of the creepiness, is a testament to Blake’s talents. Ask any of my friends or relatives, and they’ll tell you that I’m one of the biggest wimps on the planet. Even a few of the scenes in Scary Movie III gave me the heebie jeebies the first time I watched them, which is just plain pathetic. That being said, I usually don’t make it through books that deal with ghosts and spirits, unless said books are so good that I just can’t put them down.

That was the case with Anna Dressed in Blood. There are plenty of scenes that left me squirming, but I was so interested in the characters and the story that I couldn’t stop reading. I persisted while the characters crept through houses where the walls oozed blood and the inhabitants reenacted their grisly murders again and again. I made it through descriptions of people being ripped in half, eaten, dismembered, and disemboweled. It was an eerie reading experience, but it was worth every single goosebump.

Part of what makes the book so wonderful is Cas, the protagonist. Most sane people wouldn’t consider “ghost hunter” a satisfactory profession, but Cas handles the job with humor, swagger, and attitude.  Rather than considering himself burdened by the legacy that requires him to hunt the things that go bump in the night, Cas takes pride in his work. Although you get the impression that he would occasionally like to enjoy a day that doesn’t require him to stalk and re-kill the dead, he always does his job willingly and well.

What’s great about Cas is that even though he’s a competent ghost hunter, he doesn’t come across as one of those macho I’ve-seen-it-all-and-nothing-fazes-me-anymore heroes. He’s brave and handles himself much better than most people would in scary situations, but he still feels fear like anyone else. This fear humanizes Cas and makes him into a much more fascinating character than if he’d been effortlessly unafraid. If he were fearless, there’d be no hurdles for him to overcome, no meaning to the story. The fact that he’s afraid but is able to fight through his fear speaks volumes about his strength and resolve.

The main action of the book begins when a tip leads Cas to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to take on a ghost known as Anna Dressed in Blood. Cas has been battling evil spirits for most of his adolescence, but none of his extensive experience prepares him for the terrible force that is Anna. Her rage and power are unparalleled, and Cas quickly realizes his usual tactics are no match for her might. He commits himself to studying Anna, to figuring out what separates her from all of the other ghosts he’s fought, and the more time he spends with her, the more intrigued he becomes.

I don’t think it’s giving away too much to tell you that the relationship between Cas and Anna gradually evolves into something more than the two of them simply trying to kill one another. You’d think that the whole “ghost hunter falls for the ghost he’s trying to destroy” thing would be cheesy, but it isn’t, mostly because Cas and Anna’s feelings for each other are complicated. There is mutual respect and even admiration, acknowledgment of each other’s strength, but neither ever forgets that the other is a threat.

It also helps that there aren’t any grand declarations of love or any “Woe is me, I’ve fallen for the very woman I must put to death!” lamentations. Cas and Anna are both realists, not romantics. They realize their situation is unlikely to end happily ever after. As Cas wryly remarks at one point in the book, “[H]ey, at least we’ll have this strange story to tell, love and death and blood and daddy-issues. And holy crap, I am a psychiatrist’s wet dream.”

Blake’s characters and plot are fantastic, but I also have to give her credit for breaking away from YA tropes. Unlike most teenage protagonists charged with fighting the forces of evil, Cas doesn’t have to hide his calling from his mother. She’s fully aware of his unusual job, so there’s no sneaking around or coming up with lies to keep her in the dark. Another pleasant surprise is that Cas doesn’t have to work alone. He has a great support system he can rely on, including the local high school’s queen bee, who is not – hallelujah! – a stereotype. She’s popular and gorgeous, but she’s also smart and self-assured and practical, which made me all the more grateful for this fantastic book.

Overall, as disturbing as some of it was, I really liked Anna Dressed in Blood. Definitely recommended!

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