A few weeks ago, I compiled all of my spooky Halloween posts in one creep-tastic post, complete with a pretty cool video montage (if I do say so myself). This month I set out to read quite a few of those books. Although that mission was a fail overall, I did succeed in reading the Anna Dressed In Blood duology, and I loved it!
Title: Anna Dressed in Blood; Girl of Nightmares
Author: Kendare Blake
Publication: 2011; 2012
Blake's story is told from the point of view of Cas, a seventeen-year-old boy who happens to be the most prolific ghost hunter in the land. Cas has spent his teenage years traveling from place to place hunting a plethora of violent ghosts, taking the over the namesake after his father's demise at the hands of a flesh-eating ghoul. When Cas gets a tip about a young girl in Ontario called Anna Dressed In Blood, who vicious dismembers anyone who steps foot in her house, he's immediately intrigued. So while he walks into her home, he fully expects to be torn limb from limb, and is beyond surprised when she spares his life.
Aside from the gore and horror aspect (which I'll get to in a minute, don't you worry child!), the highlight of both of these novels is the narration. I'm always a bit wary of stories told from a guy's point of view. When I think of the way guys tell stories, it's always in clipped, basic sentences, a.k.a not something I want to actually read. In novels, it usually reads one way or the other: (1) the guy tells the story in that clipped way I expect and it's as boring and painful as a bag of nails or (2) the guy sounds exactly like the next flowery, very detail-oriented female protagonist (see Allegiant). But Blake hits the sweet spot with Cas' narration. Cas sounds "guy like" but his voice isn't juvenile or annoying as he paints an effective picture for the reader without describing things in excessive detail. He tends to describe things in terms of what he observes as opposed to what he feels (or his observations of feelings, i.e. "she looks at him a lot and always touches him when he speaks" instead of "she's so in love with him and worships everything he says"), which is both guy-like yet still interesting. To put it simply, he isn't poetic but rather descriptive, observant rather than emotional, and it adds so much to the story and his character development.
By way of character development, Blake does a great job with all of her characters. She creates an entire host of secondary characters that hold their own. There's Cas' witch mother who is a constant presence in the story, his English mentor/kinda-grandpa, his only two friends - Carmel, the typical yet so not typical popular girl, and Thomas, the slightly-off sidekick - and Thomas's witchy, hipster grandfather. They all add so much to the story, even the phantom presence of Cas' deceased father, but the standout for me hands down was Thomas. I really loved his character. He latches on to Cas as soon as he gets into town and never lets go, and it is so damn endearing. His quirks are perfect, his loyalty is unquestionable and I just want to hug him until his head pops off (take about horror!).
Before I get into the best part of this duology, I'll note that the first book is kind of disappointing in the horror department. Although there are a few pretty awesome moments, they were few and far between. And while I throughly appreciated the other aspects of the story, I felt like I was missing that scare factor that I desperately wanted. It's still worth it though! It's definitely creepy and the second novel amps it up! But if you aren't a horror fan and are wondering if you can handle it, I say give Anna Dressed In Blood a go.
Now that said, I'll end my review with my love for everything Anna Korlov. Anna is one bad ass b___. She's this ultra powerful, crazy vicious, who tears boys in half and asks questions later. At the same time, she's surprisingly witty and sarcastic, and there are dips and divots to her character that I was not expecting at all. Any time she was in a scene, she owned it. Even when the focus wasn't on her, I found myself wondering "where's Anna?" or "what does Anna think about all this?" Anna Dressed In Blood is so well-written that she doesn't need to carry the story, but she totally could if she had to. If in doubt, read it solely for her character.
"You make me want things I can't have."
"I've seen most of what there is to be afraid of in this world, and to tell you the truth, the worst of them are the ones that make you afraid in the light. The things that your eyes see plainly and can't forget are worse than huddled black figures left to the imagination. Imagination has a poor memory; it slinks away and goes blurry. Eyes remember for much longer."
Only read on if you have read Anna Dressed In Blood. Text is white; highlight to read.
Girl of Nightmares picks up a few months after the end of Anna Dressed In Blood. Anna has just dragged the obeahman into god-knows-where and saved everyone, but Cas just can't let her go. He dreams this horrific dreams about her and searching for information about where she could have gone is driving him to take some big risks. Friendships are tested, hell, his life is tested, and Cas has to figure out how far he's willing to go for the fierce dead girl he loves.
Where Anna Dressed In Blood disappoints, Girl of Nightmares kicks ass. This sequel is full of pretty cool ghost scenes, action-packed moments, seances read with baited breath and even a impromptu trip to England and a truly spooky adventure through the creepiest forest. I wasn't terrified (I don't scare easy) but it was a really thrilling read. I was squealing every few pages because of some really creepy or strange detail Blake would include in the storyline. Overall, the novel felt full within enough scare and plot twists to satiate my hunger for a haunted read. Again, the stand out is Thomas! He's just such a wonderful, wonderful friend. A true sidekick. Blake summed him up perfectly somewhere in the middle of the book:
"...Thomas was always scared. The important thing is that his kind of fear doesn't run deep. It doesn't stop him from doing what he has to do. It doesn't mean he's not brave."
We should all aim to be so lucky.
Overall, if you want to top of your Halloween with a fun, spooky ghost story that's not so scary, pick up Anna Dressed In Blood asap. The characters are great, the narration is perfection, and although it's not a terrifying read, Anna is one baaaddd (wo)man. And if you're looking for a little more haunt out of your story, continue on to Girl of Nightmares. Both are great books that I think I'll want to reread during the Halloween season for years to come.