Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in BloodThis book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve been reading a lot of teen fiction lately.  While the majority of my reading fare can be found in the “adult” science fiction and fantasy sections, there’s no denying that young adult literature has produced some gripping tales in the past few years.  Many of those lean heavily towards the dark end of the spectrum, and Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood is no exception.

(Description nicked from B&

“Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas’s life.”

From the moment the story opens, this novel grabs your attention.  Cas is immediately established as a ghost slayer, but one who is still caught in a conflict between his youth and his very mature responsibility to exorcise restless spirits.  He deliberately puts himself into danger in the course of his duty, but he doesn’t do so in the reckless manner that many associate with teenage boys.  He’s very believable—a young man forced into adulthood far too soon.

Anna, too, embodies a dichotomy.  In a way, it’s the same conflict that Cas faces, that of the impetuosity of a child versus the deliberate actions of an adult.  The curse she suffers under causes her to kill everybody who enters her house, but Cas causes her to exert self-control in order to not kill him and his friends.  The curse causes fits of rage, but she learns to control the outbursts.

Much of the novel deals with the slow revelation of Anna’s fate—who murdered her, under what circumstances, and where it actually took place.  The ultimate answers are probably not what you would expect, but the author lays down the groundwork for those answers so well that you can look back and see the clues.  It’s a rather heartbreaking end to her story.

But there’s a bit of a bonus as the novel wraps up, because Blake turns to the question of Cas’s father’s death as well.  While I did like not having to wait for answers to this question, it felt a little odd to have it tacked onto a novel that is so solidly about Anna.  I think it’s just a minor pacing issue, and with a bit more of Cas woven into the overall narrative, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought.  It’s still compelling enough that I don’t consider it to be a flaw, but just a minor hiccup.

The sequel comes out this summer, and I’m eager to get my hands on it and see where Cas and Anna’s story goes.  Anna Dressed in Blood is one of this year’s best young adult novels, and it works as both a gripping supernatural yarn and a touching love story.  Kendare Blake is an author to watch.