Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna #1)
By: Kendare Blake
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: October 17th, 2011
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.
So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered 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. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, 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, now stained red and dripping with 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.
Yet she spares Cas’s life.
Anna Dressed in Blood is not your typical ghost novel, at least as far as my limited knowledge of them goes. There’s very little of the true ‘horror story’ in these pages–if you’re looking for suspense, otherworldliness, and a distant afterlife, this book is not for you. Instead, it’s a ghost novel of the sort of Meg Cabot’s Mediator series, or if you watch TV, the CW show ‘Supernatural’. It’s not a ghost story, its a ghostbusters story.
Theseus Cassio (Cas for short) has an ability few others do, the ability to ‘kill’ ghosts using a special knife inherited from his late father. He and his mother travel around the country, the better to allow him to keep doing his job. But when coming to Thunder Bay to confront the ghost Anna Dressed in Blood, he finds things to be a mite complicated. For one thing, Anna doesn’t seem to be like many of the other ghosts he’s come across–she’s sentient, aware of what she’s doing and regretful of it. For another thing, he can’t bring himself to hate her even when she rips a teenager apart with her bare hands. For Cassio, there has to be something deeper driving her murder sprees, and he, along with an unlikely band of friends, has to find out what exactly that could be.
I will tell you immediately that one of the best parts of this book for me was characterisation. Cassio’s head is a tough place–he says exactly what he thinks, keeps his head focused on the next ghost. He lends a sarcastic commentary to what could be a dramatic situation in anyone else’s hands, and adds a breath of fresh air. I also find it fascinating how Blake manages to convey the extent of Cas’s grief over his father without mentioning more than a few words on the subject. His matter-of-fact manner over ghosts and the hideous realities of the dead and undead is…well, I might not say refreshing, but it’s definitely a good read. There’s a darkness underlying even such banal situations as the school cafeteria, and a surprising beauty mixed into seemingly bleak situations. And through his eyes, Anna takes on a much larger character than just a ghost. But Cas isn’t a perfect narrator either, which is nice. Those times where you want to hit him for being an idiot teenager add some refreshing reality to the narrative.
I also find the plot fascinating–there’s not one, but two deep inner conflicts running through the novel, the first Cas’s struggle against loving someone he knows is a monster, and a second struggle to come to terms with the lasting effects of his father’s gruesome death. Cas, whose entire life since the age of seven has been a straight line towards revenge, is suddenly thrown into confusion and doubt over what seemed to have been the sturdiest aspects of his life. It’s not just a boy-meets-ghost story, it’s a moral search.
There’s only a few things that could make this book even better. One would be a further characterisation of side characters–there’s such a fascinating ensemble standing behind Cas, I’d like to see more of them. But at the same time, the story is entirely in Cas’s voice, and it makes sense that it’s somewhat egocentric. So, overall, I would highly recommend Anna Dressed in Blood, and not only to fans of ghost stories.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.