Goodreads synopsis: 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.
Part Supernatural, part Amityville Horror, this entry to the YA Horror genre is captivating and entertaining. As someone who loves Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Joe Hill and a multitude of other horror writers, I tend to be skeptical of YA horror, imagining it all like the Goosebumps series. Don’t get me wrong, Goosebumps was great, but not exactly the kind of spine-tingling, lock your doors and turn on all the lights scary as Pet Sematary or It. Anna Dressed in Bloodis somewhere in between. While many will view some of the more violent scenes in the book as a bit much for YA, the tone of the book and the theme is definitely geared toward a younger audience. Despite that, horror fans of all ages will find something about this book to love.
Kendare Blake introduces us to the harrowing world of ghost hunting through the voice of the narrator Cas Lowood. Cas put aside any ideas of having a normal teenage life long ago when he inherited his father’s vocation. Readers are thrust into the action from the first sentence as we accompany Cas on a hunt. He is after the ghost of a hitchhiker murdered in the summer of 1970 who is now acting out his own death on any unlucky enough to give him a ride. Cas ends up disposing of this ghost and is now ready to move on to his next locale to take on the ghost of Anna. Things do not go as planned; however, and while Anna makes quick work of one of Cas’s new classmates, she spares him. The story progresses at break-neck speed, with twists and turns that kept me turning pages well into the night.
The novel’s cast of characters is both quirky and endearing. Kendare Blake has done a great job of piecing together Cas’s make-shift Scooby Gang. From the high school outcast to the reigning Queen Bee, none of the characters are as one-dimensional as they first seem. The same is true of Anna. Every ghost has a story, and Anna’s is as terrifying and heart-wrenching as they come. Her story really forces readers to look beyond the obvious parts of people and consider the why of their actions. Anna is angry and brutal without a doubt but she is also carrying around a tremendous amount of guilt and shame which makes her relatable and sympathetic. Even Tybalt, Cas’s ghost-detecting cat has a personality which makes him endearing. A book is truly only as good as its characters and in this sense, Anna Dressed in Blood is a complete success.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The tension and gore is broken up with hefty doses of humor. The characters are real and relatable despite being in fantastical situations. Fans of Supernatural will find themselves relating Cas’s desire to fight ghosts and avenge his father’s death to Sam and Dean’s adventures. Fans of Stephen King will find themselves happily lost in a ghost story. I recommend this for readers looking for a little something different—what you will find is a ghost story with heart.