Sunday 9 November 2014

#CBR6 Book 115: "Anna Dressed in Blood" by Kendare Blake

Page count: 387 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This review contains minor spoilers for the book. Nothing big, but if you like to approach a book completely blank, you may want to skip this. 

Like his father before him, Cas Lowood travels around the country and lays restless and malevolent ghosts to rest. He and his Wiccan mother rarely stay in one place for too long, and Cas makes very sure not to get too attached to any of the locals, as he's just going to pack up and leave as soon as he's done hunting and killing the local ghost legend. With every ghost he lays to rest, Cas becomes more experienced. He hasn't told his mother (who would naturally freak out), but his ultimate goal is to track dow the spirit that murdered his father.

Now Cas is going to Thunder Bay in Ontario, to kill the murderous spirit the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood. Brutally murdered while on her way to a school dance in 1958, Anna Korlov haunts the boarding house where she used to live, wearing the blood soaked dress she died in. She has killed countless people, yet the locals always seem to find a rational explanation for why the dead people went missing. In Thunder Bay, Cas as per usual tries to stay detached and aloof, but before he can even get properly settled in, it seems he has made both new friends and jealous enemies. Carmel, the most popular girl in school (the best person to tell him all the pertinent gossip) turns out not just to be a bitchy queen bee, but actually very nice. Thomas, a geeky telepath with a witch grandfather insists on helping Cas, even when he strenuously denies needing any.

Of course, Mike, Carmel's jock ex-boyfriend is less enthusiastic about the new guy getting cozy with his girl and he and his friends trick Cas out to the haunted house where Anna is supposed to stay. The jocks want to lock Cas in the abandoned house as a joke, but their actions have terrible consequences. Cas survives, Mike is less fortunate. Why would Anna Dressed in Blood, who's supposedly killed more than seventeen teenagers, not to mention a slew of vagrants and homeless people, suddenly spare Cas' life? He can't understand it, and determines to get to the bottom of Anna's tragic death and the possible causes for her cursed afterlife.

My fellow Cannonballer scotsa1000 reviewed this about a month ago, and wasn't all that impressed. One of the criticisms was the bad-mouthing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I will agree, is a serious mark in Cas' disfavour. I was pleased to see that there are only two instances in the whole book where he thinks or says mean things with regards to my beloved Buffy and her Scoobies, and considering Cas is clearly a young Sammy Winchester clone who just happens to have a supportive mother with an awesome cat instead of a mostly absentee, highly irresponsible father or a brother he has the most destructive, co-dependent love-hate relationship ever, Cas should have been so lucky to be a Scoobie. There are absolutely elements of both Supernatural and Buffy in this, and I refuse to believe that Kendare Blake isn't perfectly aware of it.

I liked the book and found it very entertaining. It was an effective little horror story, and in parts really surprisingly gory. I keep being astonished at how much graphic violence there is in YA literature nowadays. I guess the tweens and teens of today are made of hardier stock than I was, because the things I read as a teenager did not have people being brutally ripped in half for trespassing. I liked Cas' mother, who seemed like sensible, if sometimes a little bit too accepting of her son's dangerous hobby. I liked the various teen characters and that both Carmel, Thomas and the jock dudes who give Cas the stink eye have more facets than just prom queen, geek and popular guy. Cas wants so badly to stay a detached loner, but he clearly also desperately needs friends his own age. It's good for you, dude. Look at how the Winchester brothers turned out, you don't want to go down that sad, lonesome road.

What I didn't like, was the romantic storyline that felt just tacked onto the story. I honestly have no idea where the attraction between Anna and Cas came from and it seemed forced and detracted from the story rather than add to it. I don't see why just feeling sympathy with Anna couldn't have spurred Cas to help her. This book ends on a cliff hanger, and I suspect I will read the sequel at some point, if nothing else to see how Cas, Carmel and Thomas turn out. As far as I'm aware, there aren't going to be more than two books in the series, and that's unusual enough for YA these days. I should probably support an author who knows not to drag things out unnecessarily.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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