Anna Dressed in Blood
Tor Teen, 2011
Anna Dressed in Blooddrew my eye with its evocative title and subtle cover. Its jacket description reminded me in many ways of the CW’s long running Supernatural; in my opinion one of the more entertaining genre shows on television. The story centers on Cas Lockwood and teen who inherited his father’s athame and his father’s profession: hunting and killing ghosts. Along with his mother, a white witch, Cas sets out to investigate the myth of the titular Anna partly as a training mission to take on the ghost that murdered his father.
The first thing I’ll say about Anna Dressed in Blood is that it isn’t particularly scary. Kendare Blake doesn’t spend too much fostering an atmosphere of horror and she chooses to render the presence of the dead as a regular occurrence for Cas. There isn’t any slow buildup to the revelation of Cas’s ability to see and kill the dead. Ghosts in this novel are sort of a more mundane threat if an otherworldly one. This is a totally acceptable approach to the subject if you go into the novel expecting something more akin to dark or urban fantasy rather than horror.
Blake doesn’t get bogged down in the details of the novel. Readers quickly come to understand that Cas’s abilities are intricately and inseparably tied to his father’s athame but the details of that connection remain a mystery; though they do play an important role in the novel’s conclusion. There isn’t any lengthy exposition on the spells we see worked in the novel and their purpose is cleverly linked to their execution. Reader’s are often given a simple explanation for a spell but are quickly thrown into its execution. This works well enough and keeps the pace of the novel flowing forwards.
While Blake might not focus on a horrific atmosphere she doesn’t flinch from violence. Anna Dressed in Blood has real and legitimate threats and Blake doesn’t flinch from putting her characters in some dire and frequently gruesome situations. Blake’s willingness to toss her characters in the meat grinder (not quite literally) helps to generate tension and you’re never certain just who will make it out any particular scene. We’re not talking a George Martin level of violence here but it was definitely a significant threat throughout the course of the novel.
Less believable is the romantic aspect of the novel. You can almost guess where that romantic connection is by the jacket text but I won’t spell it out explicitly. However, the focus of the narrative remains more heavily focused on Cas’ desire for revenge and any romantic elements seem completely ancillary to the plot. However, I will say that the novel’s conclusion raises some interesting questions for the sequel that I would love to see explored more.
Anna Dressed in Blood is rather unique in the young adult market. A supernatural teen novel absent of vampires, werewolves, angels, and demons; it is strange that ghost almost feel like a novel concept in the world of supernatural fiction. While it slips a bit when it comes to the believability of its romantic aspects it excels at its world building, mythology, and unflinching portrayal of violence. Anna Dressed in Blood is a novel worth checking out for adults and teens alike.