Here we are today with a book that is supposed to render me in a frightened state referred to as ‘shitless’, and also make me sleep with the lights on for the next week. Pfft. You don’t know me! I might have had a nightmare or two watching the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street at the cinema, but that was probably my brain trying to repress the memory that I’d seen the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Whatever medium it may be, horror doesn’t really scare me that much. It is one of my favourite genres, but I was merrily pointing out all the stupid moments in Paranormal Activity whilst my friends talked about how much it frightened them. “Ha, come on, why would you use a ouija board if you were told your house was haunted? Unless you’re incredibly stupid, which the guy in that movie was, but still!”
Upon cracking open the novel, I had a slight recollection to my days of watching Supernatural when the UK networks decided that it must be broadcast at three in the morning and sometimes even change channels. As such, I’ve seen quite a few episodes of Supernatural out of order. Why would this novel make me think of that wonderful show starring dearest Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles?
Well, it starts off with our main character Cas (eeiie, Misha Collins?) driving an old, beat-up car down a quiet road in the middle of nowhere, seeking out a hitch-hiking ghost, which then drives people to their deaths when they agree to take it home. Say, isn't that what the first episode of Supernaturalstarts out like? Well, fear not. It may have these elements, but Anna Dressed in Blood was thankfully good enough to have a story that would stand up on its own.
Cas Lowood may only be fifteen years old, but he takes his job very, very seriously. Ever since his ghost-hunting father died many years ago, he’s taken up the job of slaying the restless dead and kept his mother on her toes running a ghost-busting agency. A contact in Louisiana – where the family were staying shortly before Cas’ father died – tips Cas off to a particularly gruesome case in a suburb of Ontario.
So, Cas and his mother move up to Canada, and while trying to fit in with the kids at high school, Cas learns the local legend of Anna Dressed in Blood. He talks his new friends into taking him into the creepy mansion where Anna was murdered fifty years ago. During a prank gone horribly wrong, a jock named Mike is ripped in half by the murderous spirit. Yeah. Kendare Blake doesn’t spare the details either.
The odd thing about Anna Dressed In Blood, though? She actually has a side to her that is sweet and caring, but when she’s angry? Ooh, boy, do you want to put as many towns, cities, countries, continents, galaxies, and universes between you and her as possible.
What I loved about this novel was how gripping the more paranormal scenes were. That’s not to say the regular high school and investigation plot points were humdrum, but I really stood up and paid attention whenever any of the ghosts were around. The end villain is a perfect example. I won’t spoil anything, but the way he’s described is bone-chilling, and it’s horrifying to see just how much damage he gets to inflict on poor Cas.
Anna was a great character too, and I really liked how she was written. There may be two sides to her personality, one which is enraged and wrathful, and another which is kind and innocent, but Blake doesn’t just focus on how lovely Anna is when she isn’t pulling visitors limb from limb, or how gruesome she is when she isn’t trying to help Cas determine how to exorcise her properly. Now that’s how you write a character. Let’s not forget that ending, which makes me super-jealous of the lucky sods who already have ARCs of Girl of Nightmares!
Also, all of the side-characters are written very nicely in this novel. In the hands of a much less competent writer, Carmel would be a stereotypical dumb blonde cheerleader, Thomas would be the clichéd morbid Goth kid, and Will, Chase and Mike would just be stupid jocks. However, everyone in this novel has personality, and characters you’d peg for adhering to completely conventional horror movie tropes aren’t like that at all. Carmel, for example, kicks arse. She has one or two moments where she doubts she even fits in whilst Cas and the others are trying to exorcise Anna, and honestly, it’s so refreshing to not have any whiny characters whatsoever in a YA novel. Cas may brood a bit from time to time, but he also shows a lot of bravado for his age, which really made me warm to him as a character.
The romantic aspects as promised by Cassandra Clare’s ridiculous recommendation on the top of the cover weren’t really there for me. But, this was fairly pleasant, as far as I’m concerned. We have a YA novel that has a love triangle (if you squint sideways), but… no bullcrap about true love and mostly focuses on the dark and supernatural elements of the story as opposed to the fledgling romance? Have I hit an anomaly in time and space? I haven’t? Well, please excuse me for a moment while I gesticulate wildly. Or in other words, flail harder than a wacky waving inflatable arm tube flailing man.
In summation, Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood was brilliant. Not in the ‘this is actually a seriously scary ghost story’ brilliance, but in sheer ‘this is a ripping yarn’ brilliance. It’s a shame these couldn’t interweave – as unfortunately I don’t find a lot of scary books, well, scary – but whatever the case, if you want a gripping YA ghost story, check out Anna Dressed in Blood posthaste. 5/5.