I will be the first to admit, I am not huge on novels. The way my brain processes information, it is very difficult to catch and hold my attention. This is true even in manga but, generally speaking, the pictures fire enough of my brain cells to bring me back around. However, this isn’t true for all novels, actually, there are many young adult romance/ horror books I adore. John Green’s Paper Towns, Lish McBride Hold Me Closer Necromancer, even Veronica Roth’s Divergent kept me engaged enough to read the rest of the series.
But none of those stories inspired something in me during high school that would carry on into my adult life much like Kendare Blake’s fantastic supernatural romance, Anna Dressed In Blood. A two-book, rather weirdo series that follows Theseus Cassio Lowood, a sarcastic ass hole that happens to also be a de facto ghost hunter. Following in his late dad’s footstep, Cas wields his Athame, a blade shrouded in mystery other than the simple fact, it sends the dead to wherever they need to be.
Catching wind about one of the most powerful ghosts in recent memory. He packs up his white witch mother and heads north to Thunder Bay, Ontario, searching for one simply known as Anna, Anna Dressed In Blood.
Once in town, we see a pretty basic narrative bit of Cas going to school, mostly him fishing for information on who/ where this Anna ghost happens to be. Though pretty standard, one thing that allows the first part of the book to really catch my attention was Blake’s consistent ability to make it humorous, rather facetious dialogue. What starts out as Cas pretty much being an ass hole quickly turns into this three-way pull between Cas, his new friend Thomas, and queen bee extraordinaire Carmel Jones. The latter being approached by Cas he figured his best chance to get good information fast is to simply get it from the most popular girl in school Carmel.
I’m not going to lie, he does kinda pull this off a little too easily. But eh, why sweat the details.
It is afterward he discovered he is getting tailed by a strange, scrawny kid. Seeming to be able to read his thoughts, much to the displeasure of Cas he discovers the boy is a local witch named Thomas Sabin. Thomas, to put it bluntly, tells Cas he needs his help if he is going to kill Anna. An offer that Cas quickly rejects, calling Thomas annoying and making it very clear that Cas has, and always will work alone.
Earlier that day getting the details on an up-and-coming party, Carmel offers to give him a ride, promising to get into the ghost stories once they’re there, and with any luck, he will be well on his way to killing (again?) this so-called Anna. In the beginning, Carmel plays out the role of the pretty girl, a teehee here, a that’s cute there, honestly, she doesn’t bring much of anything to the story at the start, granted (as I will get into in a minute) neither does Thomas. But as Cas finds himself at the party, specifically under the spotlight of Carmel’s ex Mike Andover and increasingly unimpressed with their stories. Mike tells him flatly if you wanna see a real ghost, get in the car, I will show you a real ghost.
Much to the displeasure of Carmel inc, the group of 5 (Carmel, Cas, Mike, and two of his friends, Will, and Chase) find themselves in the middle of nowhere in front of an old Victorian home that seemed to be vacant for years. Most of the party drunk, Mike and his pal’s egg on the would-be ghost by throwing beer bottles at the house and yelling swears, none of which Cas finds particularly useful. This comes to a head when Cas finds himself bludgeon by a board from the ever so jealous Mike, then tossing the unconscious Cas into Anna’s house, a place where over two dozen people have met their end.
It is finally at this time we met the final main to this horror romance, the heroine herself Anna. Coming down the stairs, in Cas’s words a ‘goddess of death’ she floats, blood pouring endlessly from her throat, down her white dress. Her black hair, writhing like snakes. She is quiet, standing above Cas simply staring at him as he goes in and out of consciousness. He, mesmerized.
Then shit hits the fan.
With the stage set, a de facto trio of ‘ghost busters’ (another thing Cas hates so, so much) we finally get to see the true dialogue and storytelling work in action. Growing her own pair of teeth Carmel goes from a standard damsel into a figure that not only cares deeply for her new friends Cas and Thomas but wields her power in social circles while keeping them all in check. But even with her sharp tongue, Cas’s giving a little fuck attitude, and Thomas’s awkward workaholic perspective, it wasn’t those characters that forced me to pour my heart into this book years ago, no, in fact, it was Anna.
Anna herself is without a doubt the most interesting figure in the whole book. A powerhouse ghost, a mass murder in her own right. One thing that I really found endearing is how equally witty and demanding she would end up being. Eventually, the ghost-busting trio finds themselves on a footing with Anna they did not expect to be when the adventure started. And it is within these (mostly solo for Cas) moments the romance that carries the book forward.
Then, Girl Of Nightmares, the second book comes in. Now I want to be clear with this assessment. I love this book, both of them. It is weird, cool, funny, and hit me at a time in my life that clicked so hard I’m not sure if I will ever move past it. But that does not paint glasses upon my eyes that overlook the shortcomings of the second book, specifically, the lack of the very person that made me love the first. Anna.
Without getting into some heavy spoilers all I will say is Anna is no longer where she was in book one, leaving Cas with the hell-bent determination we see in every Shonen protag to get her back. This narrative, in general, is fine and dandy and makes a genuinely interesting story at the start, but one that over stays its welcome.
Book two of the series is mostly Cas having PTSD, telling all to fuck off that is going to go against the general laws of the dead themselves to save Anna. Anna, in which we hear little to anything from the whole time. These events lead Cas across the ocean and into the midst of a very powerful group we assume would have played a larger role in book one, making the whole thing seem rushed. About halfway through the story shifts from this interesting funny, odd romance to a tale about this guy who is annoying as fuck stressing everyone in his life out.
And it was a real shame to see.
Kendare Blake is a wonderful storyteller, I want to make that clear. She has tons of great books and has even been asked if she ever would continue the Anna series, as it ends on a note it could be. Though vague in her answers the simple fact remains it’s possible but I don’t think it necessary. Book two of Anna Dressed In Blood, Girl Of Nightmares was woefully sub-pare to the original book and it left me with a sort of perplexed feeling on the whole thing. Really the whole book felt, pointless. It was a continuation of the same story, different areas, annoying new parties, and eventually, no result.
I will end on a note of this. If you are in the market for a quirky young adult novel that a weeb like I loved. Someone who is used to taboo weird shit and actively seeks it out, she (Blake) might hate me for saying this, but Anna is a hell of a good story. If you are wanting a flop ending that most original anime pull off, well, Anna has a hell of one of those as well. It comes down to the simple fact Anna Dressed In Blood is a weird fucking story told well, and I love it for that basic reason.
As always thanks for the read!