Okay, so I was in the YA section of Waterstone’s the other day, and just browsing casually through the books. Then out of the corner of my eye, I see Girl of Nightmares on the table, sitting right next to Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage.
I gave out this enormous intake of breath, got a funny look from the nearby bookseller, grabbed both of the books and made a beeline for the till, absolutely buzzing with excitement as I walked out.
Another anecdote before we get into the review proper? I ordered myself some coffee whilst waiting an hour for a friend to arrive at the cinema (the café is in the same complex) so we could go see Wreck-It Ralph.
I’m soon engrossed in the book, and I’m right at the part where Cas, Carmel and Thomas are poking around that barn where the big hillbilly ghost is sneaking around and trying to pick off unwary visitors. Thomas lets his guard down for one second and–
I’m suddenly broken away from my immersion by damn near pissing myself in fear as some teenage guy trips on the stairs coming down from the second floor, and yells aloud. He was fine and managed to steady himself, but my poor heart was beating so fast, and I had this horrified expression on my face for a moment or two. Hands trembling, I took a sip of my coffee and tried to calm myself down before reading it again.
And that, dear friends, is what I love about this series. It really, really draws you in. Kendare has this talent for minimalist writing that is incredibly scary, and she puts her characters in these situations where the tables suddenly turn and you have no choice but to keep turning the pages. Every aspect of her writing is tightly controlled, but it never feels sterile.
Cas in Girl of Nightmares isn’t quite as cocky and sure of himself as he was in Anna Dressed in Blood. He’s gone from being the popular new guy at school to being regarded as a bit of an oddball. It doesn’t help that the pseudonymous Anna Dressed in Blood is still wearing on his mind, even if he’s cleansed his father’s knife to get rid of the Obeahman spirit he fought against in the climax of the previous book – who was pulling all the supernatural strings of the story – and Anna has willingly transported herself to Hell.
He actually hallucinates about Anna every once in a while, and he becomes convinced that she’s trying to communicate something to him, even if both of his elder figures berate him for still obsessing over Anna. Gideon and Morfran say it’s simply not possible for a spirit to try and communicate with someone whilst on the ‘other side’, so to speak. His friends even get quite weary of his obsession, with Carmel suggesting he might need to see a psychiatrist, since he keeps going on these incredibly dangerous ghost hunting missions, just to try and get another glimpse of Anna.
In fact, this reckless behaviour makes Cas seem so much more human. I mean, it’s not like he had a problem with his characterisation in the first book, but these moments of weakness in the beginning ofGirl of Nightmares are really well done. His obsession is cutting him off from his family, friends and mentor figures, and it’s all so subtly written. Bravo.
However, even though I’m praising this book to the high heavens and back… It seriously had its flaws. None more so evident than when everyone packs their bags and heads off to the UK because Cas is butting against a brick wall in his quest to get Anna back from sort-of Hell, where she’s trapped with the Obeahman.
To start with, it’s foreshadowed by a heap of relationship drama that just… even though I really admired it in relation to Cas, because he has been broken down by certain events, I just couldn’t get into for Carmel and Thomas. In fact, I’ll sum up precisely what happens during this part of Girl of Nightmares.
Cas: Oh man, I really miss Anna…
Cas’ Mum: I know. You’ve been saying this for the last 100 pages, darling son of mine. By the way, you got a letter and a photograph in the post. No return address, but it’s from the UK.
Cas: They’re all holding the exact same daggers as I am! You mean I’m not the special ghost-busting awesome kid I thought I was? Gideon never told me? Even though I never asked? Right, that’s it. I’m going to London.
Cas’ Mum: Great! I’ll buy you your plane tickets.
Carmel: So, um, I know we only have a week or so of school left…. But I have to do school things and hang out with the popular crowd again.
Thomas: Oh, that’s okay. Cas and I will just investigate into this… Order of the Biodag Dubh who sent me Cas that creepy photograph.
Cas gets on the computer.
Cas: So according to Google Translate, Biodag Dubh means ‘Black Dagger.’ There’s a book series on Amazon called the ‘Black Dagger Brotherhood’, but the synopsis sounds like it’s about a whole load of vampires having sex with each other.
One sloppy break-up later (which is instigated purely by Carmel simply turning away from Thomas and hanging out with the popular kids), Thomas is in a pit of despair. Cas gets him a ticket to London to take his mind off things, and one exhausting journey later, they’re at Gideon’s house in a leafy London suburb. With a rather annoying girl by their side.
Then Carmel travels all the bloody way to London a few days later and joins them in a hike through the Scottish highlands up to the Black Dagger Brotherhood’s stronghold. All in all, boring as hell.
Jestine is another thing I hated about this novel. No, seriously, I want to know if somebody wrote a fanfic and Kendare Blake contacted them for use of their original character, this spunky girl with blonde, red-streaked hair and a thick Scots brogue who just so happens to be friends with Gideon, and is being trained to replace Cas, as the super secret Order she’s a key family member of don’t think the owner of a ghost-killing magical ceremonial knife should be moping about a dead girl being the love of his life.
I mean, I appreciate that it wasn’t just another Cas, but Jestine’s fairly irritating, and a rather boring addition to the cast. I know she kind of has to be in the plot to advance the Black Dagger Brotherhood storyline, but I just didn’t care for her in the least, even at certain parts of the story where I feel I was supposed to.
The ending is fairly well-written. Cas and Anna team up to defeat the Obeahman once and for all, whilst their bodies and minds are about as broken as you can get.
The only thing… it’s fairly anti-climactic and doesn’t really suit the story. I mean, it’s wrapped up within the last thirty pages of the book, and while it doesn’t feel rushed, it certainly feels like I came a long way to be greeted with absolutely nothing.
The Black Dagger Brotherhood don’t do a damn thing to hurt or hinder Cas, giving that part of the story no stakes whatsoever. There’s this mention of Jestine being trained to take over Cas’ job, and Gideon flat out tells Cas when he arrives in the Highlands that the Order want to kill him so they can sever the bloodline tied to his knife. But one dinner party later and hey, let’s all do the ritual to send two teenagers to Hell so they can rescue this cursed girl who’s been dead
This could have been interesting. I mean, Jestine could have had a bit more personality than ‘spunky girl’, and reveal how she had been driven to want to take Cas’ vocation, not just some vague ‘oh, my parents raised me this way’, and maybe betrayed Cas in Hell. I would have been fascinated by that. Instead they just stick together, Jestine goes off to find some sacred silver you can only find in Hell and that has been used for centuries to make these athames, and… that’s it.
I know I’m ragging on Jestine, but the plot in this book slowed so much once I got two thirds of the way in. I had the same problem with Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, you know? Everything was so magical and nicely written, and then everyone graduated from Brakebills and started partying with hipsters in New York before going on some dull quest into rip-off-Narnia.
In summation, Girl of Nightmares is very much a disappointment in comparison to the first book. However, its first act has some really compelling writing, and the characters feel very realistic… up until we get to meet the spunky Mary Sue with the blonde and red hair, anyway, and this whole boring business with the Black Dagger Brotherhood that leads to a rather anti-climactic ending. 3.5/5.