ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD
Paranormal Young Adult
Received from publisher for review
Theseus Cassio Lowood is a ghost killer just like his father, and his father before him. He travels town to town following the most gruesome of stories, locating and eliminating the nastiest of spectres and those responsible for taking human lives. Next on his list: Anna Korlov, better known as Anna Dressed in Blood.
It seems after she was murdered at age sixteen, Anna remained in her home in the white dress she was killed in, annihilating any who dared trespass on her property. Cas goes about his job in his usual fashion, gleaning information from his peers at his new high school and getting the full story (as much as anyone knows it) on Anna.
When he finally befriends several kids willing to take him to Anna, he finds himself tossed in her house as part of a prank, watching as her dripping red dress gets closer and closer. No one who's entered her house has ever left it alive. Until now. Anna spares Cas's life, making his job all the more difficult as he realizes within the monster lives a sentient young woman.
Gorgeously grim, Anna Dressed in Blood forces conflicting feelings toward the life-challenged upon us, instilling a great deal of fear at the murderous power they wield yet also ensuring we understand that those we have no choice but to see as villains are indisputably victims as well. We are drawn in quickly with Cas on one of his hunts, preparing ourselves to be shocked and appalled at the vile remnants certain individuals have left behind, and sure we're going to be solidly rooting for Cas as he destroys those who have destroyed the lives of so many since their own violent demise. What we aren't necessarily expecting is the sharp pang of sympathy Ms. Blake makes us feel for some of them, Anna especially, and we find ourselves emotionally involved with ghosts who can never truly earn back the label of "innocent" they had at their deaths, but nor can we firmly classify them as evil despite their grotesque deeds.
Cas is an outstanding protagonist, quick-witted and funny without being overly so, but he's also surrounded by an air of darkness, the price of the lonely life of a ghost killer readily apparent to us underneath the bravery and humor. He doesn't instantly swoon over the beautiful, popular girl at school, instead seeking her out as a source of information to help him find Anna, and we smile as her charms find no chink to exploit in the armor of singular purpose and duty he wears with such pride. While he is strong externally and we admire his dedication to the life that robbed him of his father, he's not so remote that we can't reach out and touch him. He is a perfect blend of characteristics–a young man so very human finding his way in the world of the paranormal.
As brilliantly executed as Cas is Anna, a girl whom we view with a kind of horrified fascination as terror and curiosity wage an epic battle within us when we first encounter her blood-soaked form. It's difficult to believe that shortly after we watch her rip a teenage boy in two we could feel anything for her other than disgust, but one of the highlights of this story is her dual nature–both vengeful murderer and guilt-ridden teenage girl–which forces us to struggle with wanting to forgive her while at the same time condemning her for the lives she's so brutally stolen. She manages to enchant and enthrall us equally, holding us captive in her story until we know all her secrets and find our need to pass judgment evaporates a little more with each page.
Anna Dressed in Blood is an extraordinary book, causing us to gasp in shock, close our eyes in fear, but also smile in sheer delight when two very isolated people start to find a home in each other. The gore is just enough to make us understand we should never underestimate Anna and what she's capable of, but we are not assaulted with blood merely for shock value. This is a ghost story dotted with death but vibrating with life and emotion, and we read the final pages praying there will be more time in the future with characters that have us wrapped tightly around their fictional fingers.