In which I blog about writing, YA fiction and the occasional sparkly unicorn.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

First Real Blog Post! Review: ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD

Hello, everyone!  Or, I suppose it should be hello to the very, very few people who somehow magically stumble across this blog.  For my first ever actual blog post, I decided to review one of my favourite books of 2011, Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed in Blood.  

(I mean, just look at that cover.  You can't not pick up a book with a cover like that, it's physically impossible.)

Here's the 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.

I was wandering around my local B&N when the cover caught my eye.  The summary on the back seemed quite different from the other books in the YA section: no love triangles, no speshul chosen-one protagonist and no weird and no brooding love interest.  It was straightforward and direct: this is a book about a boy who kills ghost, and there is also a dead girl who is a murdering psychopath.  They like each other.  Stuff happens.  So of course I had to read it.

I was not disappointed.

The book is marketed as a horror book, so some of you more lighthearted readers might be worried about picking it up.  Well, the book is in fact more creepy than it is outright scary.  I got goosebumps in a couple of scenes, and I became a bit wary of venturing all alone into the basement of my dorm to do laundry, but I didn't get nightmares, nor did I need to sleep with the light on.  So don't worry about the book ruining your life forever by making you sleep with a Crucifix and holy water next to your bed (I'm looking at you, Salem's Lot.)

So the book was creepy.  That's cool, I like creepy.  I also like good characters (as I'm sure most readers do) and this book was chock full of them.

Cas has had a rough life.  His father was killed by an unknown monster when he was young and instead of making friends he hunts ghosts.  He's badass.  He's good looking.  And he knows it.  I've read a couple of reviews on Goodreads about how some people found Cas's self-confidence and slight arrogance annoying.  While I'm not the biggest fan of arrogant protagonists, I didn't get annoyed because it fit Cas's character.  I mean come on, if you killed ghosts and demons for a living, you'd probably be pretty confident, too.  I think Cas is allowed a little cockiness.

And, let's admit it, Cas has got a bit of a thing for death, which some people might find creepy.  But if I spent everyday of my life with death as a near constant companion, I'd probably develop a thing for death as well.  So Cas has his flaws, he's got a bit of weirdness, but he's well-developed.  I loved his voice. I liked that he wasn't mopey over his past-- he dealt with the trauma and went out and did stuff.  And I liked that he was a bit haunted, but he didn't let that get to him, he just accepted it and moved on.  In short, he was awesome and I love him.

The side characters were also well done.  I especially liked Cas's mother.  I really like it when the parents in YA books are characters of their own, not just there to serve as plot devices.  She was funny and quirky, and you could see how a mother like that helped to make Cas the kind of person he was in the book.    I also enjoyed Cas's friends (or members of his Scooby-gang, as it were).  Thomas was funny and provided some dorky comic relief.  Carmel wasn't awful, but nor did I love her.  She was a girl in the popular high school clique and I didn't want to shoot her, so that means she was pretty well-developed.

And then we have Anna, the titular character of the book.  She is freaking fantastic.  I'm a big fan of characters aren't perfect, and Anna is anything but perfect.  She kills people, she's all bloody and she rips people to shreds.  It's awesome.  Her backstory was particularly sad (I won't spoil it for you but let's just say it made me want to cry) and it very clearly explained her tendency to want to tear people in half.  Her actions near the end of the book were also quite in character for her, which was cool to see.

Of course we also have the romance.  Or, more accurately, the tiny bit of connection that could theoretically be called a romance.  It was nice to see a book where the romance isn't the driving plot force.  Cas and Anna's connection never became a romantic plot tumor, nor was it ever overdone.  It's easy to see why Cas might fall for a ghost like Anna.  He lives with death; it stalks his every footstep and he embraces it.  How on earth would a guy like that ever really go for a normal girl?  He wouldn't, and so he must fall for Anna.  Anna's attraction to Cas, on the other hand, was never really explained (nor was it explained why she spared his life in the beginning) but I can brush that aside because of the fact that I liked them both.  (I read a review somewhere where the person said that their relationship was creepy. Errr....why is that a negative?  Of course it's creepy, what did you expect?  It's supposed to be creepy! That's the whole point of the book!)

The plot was quite well-done.  It kept me reading, and I pretty much read the book in one sitting (two in the morning reading sessions, FTW!).  I felt that that big reveal could have been explained a little better, but I can forgive it because I really did not expect it.  And that ending-- GIVE ME THE NEXT BOOK.  GIVE IT TO ME, NOW.  (Luckily the second book was just released! Woo-hoo!)

So, in short, I loved Anna Dressed in Blood.  Kudos to Kendare Blake for taking such a cool idea and running with it.  She never backed down from the creepiness or the darkness inherent in the concept.  The book will appeal to fans of paranormal fiction (especially dark paranormal fans) and perhaps fans of horror as well (just don't expect it to scare your socks off).  And I think anyone looking for a gripping book, with interesting characters and some pretty good twists will like it.  As for me, I'm headed out to get the second one!

Happy reading!

Verdict: Four Stars! 

P.S.-- There were some people I saw saying that the font was hard to read.  It's a dark red/burgundy type on cream coloured paper.  Honestly, it took me ten or fifteen pages before I realised the font wasn't black.  It didn't bother me at all and I actually really loved the effect, but this probably varies from person to person.

P.P.S-- Cas and Anna.  Like Supernatural. Omg I never realised.  Can I ship Castiel and Anna, now?  Is this a thing that I can do?  Yes.  I'm gonna do it.

P.P.P.S.-- Never mind.  I can't ship Castiel and Anna because it would interfere with Destiel.  Silly Hannah, get your ships straight!  (Lol, straight.  Haha.)

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