Is this the coolest title ever or what? I picked this book up based on that alone and I know a few others who are interested for the same reason. Anna Dressed in Blood, the debut novel by Kendare Blake, has a lot of great elements in it. The premise is interesting. The ghosts are scary. The villain is legitimately terrifying.
Unfortunately, all those things don't exactly tie together well.
Theseus Cassio Lowood is apparently the only ghost hunter in the world (or not? it's vague) and he has a silver athame passed down from his father that allows him to kill ghosts. His father was killed by a ghost (or not? it's vague) and Cas has a chip on his shoulder the size of Montana. The first problem that every person over the age of about 15 will run into is that the protagonist is a whining, emo brat. Mind you, this book is billed as YA but this dude is that stereotypical sulking teenager in a very "I'm gonna slap that pout off your face" way. He's like the male Bella Swan. Had sparkling vampires appeared to woo him, I would not have been in the least surprised.
|This is who I'm gonna call.|
This leads into the next issue: Mythology. We've so far seen this petulant kid with daddy issues talking about killing some ghosts. He did put one down where we saw it, but it was pretty tame. Anna is Serious Business. And while Blake tells us this, and even shows it with that one example, we don't have a good grounding in what's business as usual for a ghost hunter. What is the standard operating procedure? Is it just go in, chop, and be done? Heck, are there challenging jobs? Because it sounds like all ghosts are as simple as the first one he killed. If so, why does he have his go-to research guy? Is there anything else like Anna out there? If not, how does he have any idea what to do? If he's the only ghost hunter, how does anyone know what to do? If he's not the only ghost hunter, can't he escalate? This is all very poorly spelled out and doesn't make a lot of sense. I think Blake had all of the framework and rules of her world in her head and she simply didn't share them with us. (To combat this frustration, I applied Supernatural rules of ghost management and pretended this kid was a hunter who didn't know there were others. It worked well for me.)
Eventually, we figure out that Anna isn't the true problem. There's something else going around murderizing people. It's the whatsit that ate Cas's father! How does he know? He just knows.
Honestly, the thing-that-ate-dad plot point would have been a compelling story in its own right if it had been worked more smoothly into the story. Hell, give it its own book. You don't need two mega ultra badass monsters in one story because one will just get thrown away. Why waste a great monster?
Anna Dressed in Blood would have been a much better novel if it was, say, third in a series instead of first. If I'd had time to grow to care about Cas (or even like the kid), I would have been more invested in his struggle. If we'd had a good grasp of the mythology of the world, I'd have been more impressed by just how tough Anna was compared to the other ghosts and what a challenge she'd be for Cas. The love story would have worked better if I had seen a lot more business as usual from Cas and gotten a better feel for how he normally reacts to ghosts. I also feel like the story should have been either a lot more YA or a lot less. It's a strange amalgamation of a very whiny kid protagonist and a very adult horror setting.
I'm going to buy the next few books from this author because she's got some very cool pieces going here. I'll be interested to see what it looks like when she gets better at fitting them together.