Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Theseus Cassio Lowood, Anna Korlov
Time and place: Thunder Bay (Ontario, Canada), present day
First sentence:The grease-slicked hair is a dead giveaway–no pun intended.
Verdict: Captivating. Want sequel now. :)

I think of her again. Anna. Anna Dressed in Blood. I wonder what tricks she’ll try. I wonder if she’ll be clever. Will she float? Will she laugh or scream?
How will she try to kill me?

Cas Lowood is a ghost killer, like his father and his father before him. He dedicated his life to this pursuit, moving around with his mother and cat to any place he finds out there’s a ghost in need of sending to the other side. At first, his next mark didn’t seem like much. A sixteen-year old girl, savagely murdered in 1958 on her way to a school dance; she bled so much that the white dress she was wearing was soaking red. Her name was Anna. She was known from then on as Anna Dressed in Blood.

However, as Cas is about to find out, Anna is not an ordinary ghost. She is strong enough to tear people’s limbs apart. Cas is no match for her, physically. So, much as he hates involving ‘civilians’ in this kind of matters, Cas must try something else…

General impression
An interesting book with just enough horror elements to make it captivating without making it too frightening to enjoy. And yes, I read it at night, in the dark :)

Reading a few reviews, I noticed that people generally are not fond of Cas and his confidence. For me it was the other way around: one of the things I liked most in the book is Cas, and the way he never questions his ‘job’ and his ability to see it through. Although he’s not yet out of his teenage years, Cas already has his life figured out. I imagine he’s not particularly fond of his gruesome task, but he accepted that he is who he is; the job needs to be done, very few people in the world can do it but him, so the matter is settled. And if this means forsaking almost all others — he cannot make friends as he keeps moving around — then so be it. I thought it very mature of him, and I enjoyed his unselfishness1 and total lack of doubts.

And then there’s his first day in his new school. His confidence never wavers — I wouldn’t have liked it any other way. After all the things and adventures he’s been through, after getting beat up by dead people quite a few times, having to fit in at a new school should be a breeze, especially if, like Cas, one does this for the n-th time. It’s only natural to become jaded after a while. On the whole, Cas is quite the good guy, surprisingly normal for a kid who lost his father when he was seven and he has spent his life moving from one place to another ever since. And did I mention I liked his self-confidence very, very much? :)

Anna is somewhat of a paradox: a killer ghost, and an innocent girl all at once. She cannot leave her own house, and she’s compelled to kill everyone who enters — and she does so, violently. She does not know why she’s the way she is, why she experiences that unstoppable thirst for blood and revenge, yet deep inside she still is the same girl who all those years ago made her own dress, dreaming of going to a dance. Anna the ghost is very strong; she’s also aware that she’s dead and that few things can actually harm her. Even before she died she was a courageous girl, who stood up for herself. Now she is fearless and untouchable, her confidence level being as high as Cas’s.

There’s chemistry between these two: they are a good match, and their values are surprisingly similar. I very much liked the way their story developed. At first, she’s just another ‘mark’ for Cas, yet another ghost to be taken care of. Then, when he tries to kill her, they have their first conversation. Cas doesn’t let the fact that he finds her cool and intriguing get in the way of doing his job, but Anna is so strong she swats him effortlessly, like a fly. Despite actually liking her, Cas knows his duty is to destroy Anna; she becomes all he thinks about. He interacts with her again and again; he never found girls his own age truly interesting, but Anna is something else. Cas doesn’t even realize when he stops thinking of her as Anna Dressed in Blood — the feared name on everyone’s lips — and starts giving her pet names (“Anna, my strong, terrifying Anna“) in his head.

Speaking of Anna, I loved the way the author imagined her:

Anna is descending upon me, coming down the stairs without taking any strides. Her feet drag horribly along like she can’t use them at all. Dark, purplish veins cut through her pale white skin. Her hair is shadow-less black, and it moves through the air as though suspended in water, snaking out behind and drifting like reeds. It’s the only thing about her that looks alive.

She doesn’t wear her death wounds like other ghosts do. They say her throat was cut, and this girl’s throat is long and white. But there is the dress. It’s wet, and red, and constantly moving. It drips onto the ground.

While Anna does not always look like this — when she’s not angry she usually looks the way she did while alive — I found all the descriptions of Anna that involve her transformation to be actually beautiful. Sure, if they were in a movie they’d probably have me scared, all the dark veins creeping on her face, and all that; yet in my mind’s eye they look great.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re all promising, yet far less interesting than Cas and Anna. I liked Carmel, the beautiful, popular girl, who’s more than her high school persona. There’s also Thomas, a teenage witch who can read minds, but only in the right circumstances — sadly, this talent of his goes mostly unused. Perhaps we’ll get to see more of it in the sequel :)

Thoughts on the title
Hands down, one of the best titles ever. So very cool.

Thoughts on the ending
I cannot decide whether I like it or not. Scratch that, I think the way things ended is the best thing for everyone involved. It’s the fact that the author decides not to let things alone and hint at a sequel that has me less than satisfied.
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Anyone who can handle ghosts and a bit of violence. I usually shy away from mentions of ghosts with eyes sewn shut, but at the moment this particular character was introduced I was way too engrossed in the events of the book to care :)

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  1. he’s basically giving away all his life for the sake of others []