The Plot: Theseus Cassio Lowood kills ghosts, just like his father before him. Years ago, his father was killed by one of those ghosts. Now Cas, a high school senior, travels the country with his mother, a witch, always on the hunt for ghosts. The hunt has brought them to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Anna Dressed in Blood. She is the ghost of a teenager killed in the mid 1950s, her throat slit, drenching her white dress with red blood. Since then, she has killed countless teenagers. Cas is there to stop her. What he doesn’t count on is making friends with queen bee Carmel and mind reader Thomas. What he doesn’t count on is falling in love with Anna.
The Good: I adore a good horror story, and this one delivers! I was reading so many good things about Anna Dressed in Blood that I bought my own copy, then put off reading it because I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to the hype. Yes, I know, so silly.
Cas is a loner, partly because he and his mother always move around so he doesn’t have the time to develop friendships, partly because he views what he does as a solo occupation. He doesn’t want friends; he’s not a ghostbuster, thank you very much (but if he was, he’d totally be Peter Venkman.) He takes what he does seriously. The ghosts he kills are killers themselves: they weren’t born that way, they didn’t die that way, it’s what they became after they died. “They might have been normal, or relatively normal, when they were still breathing, but once they die they’re your typical obsessives. They become fixated on what happened to them and trap themselves in the worst moment. Nothing else exists in their world except the edge of that knife, the feel of those hands around their throat. They have a habit of showing you these things, usually by demonstration.” The ghosts don’t even know they’re ghosts, they’re just replaying those last hours, and, sometimes, that involves killing others in the way they were killed. This is where Cas comes in, finding those deaths that ghost caused, hunting down the ghosts, and using his father’s athame to kill them, an athame that only works for him.
Something is different with Thunder Bay; something is different with Anna. Maybe it’s the number of people she’s killed. Maybe it’s because Cas witnesses her killing a local teen, and even as he sees her power (she tears the young man apart) he also sees that even though she could have killed him, she didn’t. Anna Dressed in Blood is too powerful for Cas to kill, too interesting for him to want to kill her, so he decides to try to figure out what makes her so powerful, what makes her so murderous, what makes her so different from every other ghost he’s met. To do that, he’s going to need help.
The people that Cas turns to – his mother and an old family friend, plus local teens Carmel and Thomas and Thomas’s grandfather — are all fully developed, wonderful characters. Carmel is more than just a queen bee, handling both the news that ghosts are real and that they kill with a certain amount of common sense, as well as a baseball bat. Cas’s mother! Yes, she’s a witch, so she accepts what Cas does, and helps him, just as she did for her husband. Anna Dressed in Blood is full of the little daily details she does, such as putting the knife in a jar of salt for three days and making spells of protection around the house, as well as making a living selling occult supplies and candles and giving Tarot card readings.
Anna Dressed in Blood is both scary and romantic; Anna is both sympathetic and horrible, a murdered girl whose life was taken, a grand injustice, but also someone who has spent more than fifty years tearing apart anyone who steps into her house. The pacing is terrific; I especially loved it when I thought it was “the end” and it turned out much more was going on than I, or Cas, suspected. While Anna Dressed in Blood works as a standalone, I’m thrilled to say that there will be a second book about Cas, called Girl of Nightmares. As the author explains in her blog, “One thing that should probably be cleared up is that Anna Dressed in Blood was not the start of a series exactly. It was the start of a duology. So Girl of Nightmares is the end of Cas and Anna’s story.”
Because Anna Dressed in Blood lived up to its hype; because Anna scared me; because I cheered for Cas; because Anna Dressed in Blood is funny and full of pop culture references; this is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.*
*Technically? I read this in 2011 but literally ran out of room for the post. Perhaps I need to change this to Favorite Books Reviewed in 2012?