Anna Dressed in Blood: A unique start to a YA horror series

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Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare BlakeAnna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake fantasy book reviewsAnna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I usually struggle a bit with young adult books, however, Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood (2011) was a book I was really excited to see in my mailbox. First of all, the title is catchy and so is the cover. But it was the idea that really caught me — a teenage boy falling for a serial killer ghost. Interesting. How on earth could an author turn something like that into a book geared toward teens?

Blake does a great job at creating a world that is both familiar and different for readers to immerse themselves in. Cas, the protagonist, moves around the country (violently) sending the ghosts that linger into the beyond. The world itself is familiar, because it’s our world. However, Blake adds a nice layer of supernatural to things with Cas’ Wiccan mother and Cas himself, who can see and talk to ghosts. The normal and supernatural really blend seamlessly.

Kendare Blake

Along with this is Blake’s talent for storytelling; writing for a young adult audience seems very natural to her. That’s something I struggle with regarding a lot of young adult. Some young adult books feel as though the author is struggling to address a younger audience, and that struggle causes the prose to never flow as naturally or effortlessly as Blake managed to make hers. Aside from some cheap one-liners that seemed a little easy compared to the rest of the narrative, Blake makes Anna Dressed in Blood a gem in the young adult genre.

Cas, Thomas, Anna, and Caramel are entertaining and engaging characters to follow. Despite the fact that Anna is what she is, she’s a very unique character with a lot of depth that will tug at reader’s hearts nicely. Cas is rather complex. He lives a very layered life, and he remains true to this. On the surface, Cas is the typical emotionally wrought teenager trying to fit into a new town and a new school. It quickly becomes obvious that Cas’ life in the supernatural world affects him dramatically. He’s a little bitter, a little confused and a lot different from his fellows. On the surface he knows how to play the game, but Blake does a wonderful job at showing how conflicted he is, and how his secret life has dramatically affected him.

On the flip side of this, I did find myself lacking a bit of history or description regarding Cas’ ability to kill ghosts that I never got. Several times during Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas discusses how his family is the only family that can do what they can do in this respect. I found myself often wondering why that is the case. What makes them so unique? I never got the answers to these questions, and I missed them. A little more background with Cas and perhaps some explanation as to why he can do what he can do would have been helpful, and also would have added a bit of depth and realism to many of the situations Cas finds himself in. Another area where background would have helped was with Cas’ knife. Knowing the mythology behind it might have helped me understand why it was so incredible and why it was able to do what it did.

I think the area where this book might lose a lot of readers is regarding Anna herself, and the romance. First, let me address Anna. This book is billed to be pretty scary, and perhaps it’s just me, but I really didn’t find it scary at all. Interesting, yes. Unique and captivating, yes. Scary? No. The lack of scary might disappoint some readers. Secondly, the romance is different, and in that Blake really succeeds. This is the kind of romance you won’t see anywhere else. Is it completely believable? Not really. Anna is billed as some killer ghost, and though she does gain depth and emotionally haunting qualities as the book progresses, I’m not exactly sure where the romance was supposed to go. I had a hard time believing that Cas would fall in love with a ghost that kills people in such a violent way.

The book is rife with emotion, tension, and plenty of surprises. Blake’s writing, and her ability to gear a novel like this toward a younger audience as comfortably as she does, should really be noted. Her blending of normal and supernatural is seamless and will engage audiences easily. However, there are flaws. The romance wasn’t completely believable, and some readers might be disappointed with how not-scared they might be. I also felt that a little more background and mythology in some cases would have added a wonderful punch to the book. However, Anna Dressed in Blood is a unique young adult horror novel that is sure to pull at the heart strings of anyone who reads it.

Published in 2011. Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story… 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 she used to call home. And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

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SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.

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