This book was truly astonishing. There's a temptation to think of it as the teenage version of Supernatural, which after the first few pages was the f...moreThis book was truly astonishing. There's a temptation to think of it as the teenage version of Supernatural, which after the first few pages was the first comparison that came to mind. And I'd be interested in that book. This isn't it. It's deceptively simple, but the further I went, the more complex the story (on all its levels) became, and the more thoroughly I was hooked. Kendare Blake's writing is sharp and beautiful, as well-suited to scenes of domestic peace as to the gory violence that defines her title character. Like Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series, Anna Dressed in Blood redefines the boundaries of young adult fiction; this is the sort of YA title I have trouble explaining to the parents who believe that YA fiction should be sanitized for their comfort.
We're introduced to 17-year-old Cas, the main character, as he's driving down the road with a homicidal ghost in the passenger seat...so he can kill the thing. Cas inherited the job from his father, who was killed by a ghost when Cas was seven, and all the ghost-kills he's racked up in the last three years have been to prepare him to confront that same ghost. But this job is different. Cas is on the trail of an urban legend that's all too real, a murderous ghost called Anna Dressed in Blood. She's killed dozens of people and is easily the most powerful spirit he's ever faced, and he thinks once he's killed her, he'll be ready to face his father's killer. But it's not that simple, because when he meets Anna, he discovers there's something different about this ghost that goes beyond her strength and reputation. Making the job even more interesting is Thomas, the sometime-mind reader ("I'm not a psychic") whose grandfather was the source of Cas's lead on Anna; Carmel, the queen bee of the high school who isn't as stupid as she seems; and the Trojan Army of high school brutes who'd like to see Cas dead, or at least humiliated and out of town.
Beyond that snippet of plot, it's hard to know where to start. Cas caught my interest because he was somewhere between stone-cold killer of revenants and overly-sensitive brooder tormented by what he does. He is exactly the sort of teen you would expect his background and profession to produce; he's very good at his job, he knows it's essential, and yet it's easy to see that he's got regrets about what he's had to give up. For example, a normal teenage life. Going to college. Being able to stay in one place for more than a few months. Thomas's involvement in this "job," and later Carmel's, irritates him, but he comes around quickly enough to suggest that he likes the idea of not going it alone. Cas makes mistakes, some of them serious, some of them not his fault, but he never has that stupid moment of self-doubt that a lot of authors think adds drama and conflict to a story. He's not the only interesting character; everyone in the book is believable and three-dimensional, and even the knuckle-dragging jocks aren't just stereotypes.
And Anna Korlov, the ghost...terrifying and beautiful and sad. The scene where she and Cas came face-to-face the first time really would be a perfect scene from Supernatural. Blake doesn't spend a lot of time explaining her world to us, but what we get is well-integrated, and Anna is at the center of that. I'd like to see more detail on the supernatural in future books (yes, there is a sequel coming out in August), particularly if that detail filled in the gaps that weren't addressed here. That doesn't mean I felt that necessary things went unexplained, but because Blake wasn't fool enough to try to dump everything she knows on her readers, there are spaces into which her story can expand.
What did it for me, ultimately, is that Blake's writing is beautiful, nothing wasted, no ornate twists of phrase drawing attention to themselves. Any story can be reduced to bare bones in a way that makes it seem stupid or trite; it's the way we tell them that raise them above the banal. I was extremely impressed by this book, which strikes me as extremely skilled for a second novel.
A final word on content: This book has some very graphic violence and some strong language, as fits the subject matter, and many readers may think that it's wrongly classified as a young adult novel. Usually this translates to "I don't think teens should read anything this gory." I believe that parents have the right and responsibility to pay attention to and guide their children's reading, and even (if they can) control it. This is not the same as saying this book is not young adult fiction. YA fiction is not *for* teens. It is *about* the teenage experience. Anna Dressed in Blood is very much about the sort of things teens have to face as they grow up, including (horribly) violence and abuse. It is very much young adult fiction. That said, I recommend that anyone who intends to give or recommend this book to anyone, not just to teens, should be informed and aware of its content, as well as the sensibilities of the other person. A YA label does not mean a book is safe and non-controversial.(less)