Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake

A horror novel. You've got to be kidding me, right?

Those were my first thoughts when many of my friends started telling me that I absolutely had to read Anna Dressed In Blood. When I think of horror, I think of two things: those old RL Stine books people use to read when I was a kid, and Stephen King. Nothing against either of these guys, but they aren't really on my radar as a reader. They write good enough, I'm sure, but I am not (nor was I ever) part of the audience who would be breaking down a bookshop door to get their latest or greatest.

So I really took my sweet time getting this book, and even after I got it--super cheap at WalMart, I might add--I was in absolutely no rush to read it. Dear God, why did I wait?

I love it when a book surpasses my expectations. It makes up for the ones that miss the mark or never end up firing an arrow to begin with. Read on and I'll tell you all kinds of great reasons that if Anna Dressed In Blood hasn't hit your must read list, it really should.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
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.

There is some absolute brilliance here. I think that's an adequate way to start.

Kendare's writing is everything it needs to be, at every time it needs to be 'what it needs to be'. She can be funny. She can scare you witless. She can keep you turning pages. And she can suck you into the world she has created until you feel like you are standing right there with the rest of the characters in the story. I'm not sure if it's reading more, writing more, stress or 'what' that has kept me from feeling this way more often recently. I do know I felt that here, and for me the feeling that I'm there--that the book has taken me out of my chair and dropped me into the adventure--is one of the key things I look for as a reader.

There are a lot of things that are turned upside down in this tale, my favorite being the way that Anna and Cas' "relationship" was formed, and the fact that it is an inversion of the typical situation like this where it's the male character who goes from 'bad' to 'good' with a heroine 'saving' him.

I am equally impressed with how vivid and real that all of the magic systems and superstitions that were used felt. It tells me that either someone (Kendare in this case) has a fabulous imagination or has really done their homework. Probably a combination of the two. I found it very easy to buy into what was happening in the book and I was very interested in it. The details regarding this were possible to follow, but I never felt that they were dumbed down. They felt like they had roots. Like if someone asked Kendare about something, such as why Gideon got so upset at Cas as a little boy, there is a deeper answer there. (I think that's the one huge question I have, other the obvious one presented at the end.

The whole thing just seemed to have a perfect sense of flow and pace. At a time when some books feel like they are written in code and all the letters are swirling because I can't focus, Anna Dressed In Blood was beautiful, clear and vivid. It's the kind of book which, now that I'm finished, has left me sitting here going, "Well what do I do now?"

The Characters: 

Cas has one of the most fun, readable and refreshing voices I've come across this year. He sounds real. Like someone I would actually want to sit down and have a conversation with. Like one of my gaming buddies, or my brothers or any of the many great guys I've known. His humor, courage insight, compassion and (yet again) realness allowed him to draw me in like a magnet. There is something extremely refreshing and honest about reading a story from Cas point of view and I think that this, the genre change (for me) and the humor were all huge factors in how much I love the book.

Anna was just plain cool, and brilliantly complex at the same time. I loved her evolution as a character and the fact that we have a female character doing what is usually the male character's role (going from darkness to light) was awesome. Anna never totally loses her edge, and she faces a lot of issues throughout the book, but it's really hard not to feel for her. Which is no small feat, because Anna can kick some serious ass and has no qualms about doing so.

All of the supporting characters were unique in their own way. I loved Thomas and Carmel and the way that they grew throughout the book. Cas' mother was also great and I loved the relationship the two seemed to have. It was unique and interesting. Plus, how can we forget Gideon? That guy just leaves so many questions hanging in the air!

The Romance: 

I think that Kendare got so many things right here. She balanced the action / fear / intensity of her main plot, while letting TWO romantic relationships form. She did not stoop to insta-love. The pacing for both pairings in this book was natural and real and watching what happened felt very real. I also think that she did a great job at making sure that Cas didn't suddenly get all girly on us when he was thinking about relationships or feelings. (Nor did he get stupidly "Girls have cooties!" either, thank God.)

I don't want to say a ton about the romances, because I don't want to spell everything out. I'm going to just say that this aspect of the book is just as epic as the rest, without taking over entirely, and leave it at that.

In General: 

It takes a lot to grab my interest these days, and I can tell you right now that Anna Dressed In Blood hooked me from page one and absolutely refused to let go. I am in deep mad crazy reader love with this book and if you have been holding off on it like I was, then seriously: let go, take the plunge and dive into its wild and crazy depths.I absolutely cannot recommend this enough, which is why it receives...

Why Did I Love It?

1. A distinct and memorable voice: Cas made me laugh, made me curious, made me cry and made me care. He's the kinda guy I'd love to know in real life, because he felt very honest and real to me. <3!

2. I haven't had such an "I'm gonna prove you wrong" experience since The Hunger Games. I went into this book figuring it wasn't going to do anything to me and came out of it singing its praises. It's moments like this that remind me why I love reading, and why I love blogging.

3. Couldn't put it down: It's not very often, between reading and my grandma and writing and everything else that a book gets to put its hooks into me and not let go. Anna Dressed In Blood did this, despite what I just said in my second point. That's an actual first for me and I was totally blown away.

4. It's set in Canada. :D How can I not praise an already fabulous book when it has the added bonus of being set in my home country? (Heck, home province if we're getting technical.) I've been through Thunder Bay a few times, most recently when I went for a Canadian Idol tryouts session in Manitoba.

5. This book got me to revisit a genre that I had, in many ways, written off. That's no small feat for a writer and always a good thing for a reader. You'd think I'd know better then to be that stubborn, but we all have our guirks.


  1. I also *loved* this book! Great review!! Will you be reading The Girl of Nightmares soon? Would love to know what you think about it also... :)

    Christine x

    1. I'll either be getting that next month or putting it on my Christmas wishlist. :) I definitely want to continue. We must find a way to... *zips lips* You know what I'm talking about, I'm sure. :)

      Glad to see I'm not the only one who was totally blown away. :)

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