Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake is the sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood. And it was wonderful. Anna was one of my favourite books of 2011 and if you read my review of it then you know how much I loved it. I was a little worried about this book because sequels are hard to get right. They always differ from the first book, and oftentimes the things we liked best are the things that were changed. But I needn't have worried, Kendare Blake knocked it out of the ball park with this one-- again.
(Dear lord, this cover. It basically kills me with all the awesome.)
Here's the summary from Goodreads:
It's been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can't move on.
His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they're right, but in Cas's eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.
Now he's seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he's asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong...these aren't just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.
Cas doesn't know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn't deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it's time for him to return the favor.
I must have a thing for really weird love stories or something, because Blake's books are some of my favourite YA books with a romance aspect. I think it's the fact that they're so different. There isn't any creepily-obsessed love interest, there's no angsty brooding over tortured pasts and there is absolutely no insta-love. Cas and Anna's relationship is not a normal one, but that's okay because neither of them could strictly be called normal. And the creepy in their relationship comes from the fact that Anna is a mass-murdering vengeful ghost, not because she's a slightly abusive stalker. Their relationship beautiful in a tragic sort of way, and it's a nice change from all of the "truer-and-more-perfect-than-any-before-it" love stories that have been popping up in YA recently (*cough* Hush, Hush *cough*).
Like I said before, I think one of the problems with sequels is that the characters have been changed since the first book. They're not always the people we fell in love with. Well, it is fair to say that the characters in Girl of Nightmares have changed from Anna. But I didn't care, because it was a good sort of change.
Cas Lowood is no longer the cocky ghost hunter he once was. He is broken, and obsessed with finding out what happened to Anna after her disappearance in the first book. He is convinced that she is the only girl for him, despite the fact that she's dead. Cas is not normal, so the idea that he could just go out and find a normal girl after Anna is a laughable. When he finds out that Anna is being tortured in her own personal hell, he goes looking for her. He ends up putting himself and his friends in danger. But instead of being annoying, Blake makes his actions heart wrenching. This is a boy who deals with the dead on a daily basis, and is finding out for the first time that he can't let go of someone.
As for Anna-- what can I say, other than HOLY FLYING LAMAS HOW DID YOU GET EVEN MORE AWESOME? She's trapped in Hell, she's been tortured, broken and beaten down-- but she still managed to kick some major ass.
I loved the secondary characters just as much as I did the first go around. Carmel goes through some pretty painful character development in this book. At one point she has a bit of a mental crisis over how the supernatural has invaded her neat and orderly world. But her crisis was understandable, and didn't detract from her character at all. The wonderfully dorky witch, Thomas Sabin was back for comic relief. He was awesome, as usual.
This book did introduce us to a new character-- Jestine. She's a kind of ghost-hunter-in-training. I didn't hate her, I was just sort of ambivalent towards her. I think her characterization was sacrificed a little in the name of moving the plot forward. She felt a little flat,, and the maybe-just-me-reading-too-much-into-things romance she had with Cas didn't help matters. I couldn't quite work out who she was supposed to be.
And now for the plot. Whereas Anna was a more traditional horror story, this was more of a mystery novel with a ghostly twist. The pacing was a little slower this time. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Blake has a lot of information to pack into 330 pages. A lot of time was spent on showing us how broken up Cas was about Anna's disappearance, which might annoy some readers. I didn't mind, because I thought it set the story's tone. Cas is a boy who his desperate to find the girl he loves, dead or not, and his desperation had to be believable for the rest of the story to make sense.
The story was satisfyingly creepy. Kendare Blake does a great job with believable, but striking imagery, and it definitely manages to amp up the scary in this book. All I have to say is don't read the Suicide Forest scene in an old and creaky hotel in the middle of the night. It won't end well.
And that ending-- wow. Going in I didn't know this was the last book in the series. While I'm sad that it had to end, I thank the book gods that it ended well. Blake could have chosen any number of cop outs endings for her book, so I applaud her for not taking the easy way out. The ending she chose was the most difficult one, but also the right one. There are going to be readers who hated the ending, but I loved it. Even though it made me bawl like a baby at one o'clock in the morning while my family slept, probably thinking I was going insane.
All in all, Kendare Blake managed to switch up the formula from her first book and make a thoroughly enjoyable sequel (enjoyable even when you cry your heart out). So go read it. Go read it now. You won't regret it (even when you're puking tears).
Verdict: Four Stars!
P.S.-- I have decided that these books need to be made into movies. Someone get on that. Like right now.
Obligatory gifs of me at the end of the book: