Cas Lowood is the kind of character who leads you through his story with such vitality that he’s feels as real as anyone you’ve ever met. He’s a seventeen year old ghost killer, a job he inherited after his father was murdered. He’s spend the last three years of his life traipsing across the country with his mother, following tips and rumors about the not-so-departed, hoping to learn enough to finally defeat the ghost who killed his father.
And that’s when he hears about Anna Dressed in Blood .
Anna was only sixteen when she was murdered in 1958. Trapped in the Victorian home where her throat was slit, she lingers, a ghostly horror in her once white dress now stained red from her eternally dripping blood. The whispered rumors in the town say she kills anyone who steps inside. But when Cas shows up, she spares him, saves him.
I can’t remember the last time that a character’s voice came across as clearly as Cas Lowood’s. He has this resignation about his life and what he does that somehow doesn’t make him want to leap off a cliff. He harbors no delusions that one day he’ll be able to stop hunting ghosts, he doesn’t even lie to himself that he’ll live long enough to wish he could. Instead, he works hard to prevent more deaths, to win smiles from his quietly sad but strong mother, to be a man.
He’s also very realistic not just as a teenager, but as a teenage guy, albeit one who is wise beyond his years. He is an astute judge of character, ridiculously clever and witty without ever feeling the need to constantly remind others of that fact. But we get to appreciate his thoughts, the ones he shares with others and more importantly the ones he chooses to keep to himself.
Anna Dressed in Blood is very much Cas’ book, but even though we never slip inside her head, Anna is an equally vital character. She has a tragic history and, if possible, an even more tragic present. The moment she and Cas meet, both of them change. Cas, who has often felt a pang a conscience in the moment he has to kill a ghost, again finds himself wanting to delay the inevitable with Anna. And she can more clearly remember her humanity with him, enough that she doesn’t kill him. Not the first time Cas shows up, and not every time after that.
As the story unfolds, Cas digs deeper in to Anna’s murder along with the help of a few new friends. She’s not like any ghost he’s even faced before. Something about her death was different. He starts having nightmares about his father’s death and horrifying visions of the future. It becomes more and more obvious that he has to kill Anna, but the more time he spends with her, the more untenable that thought becomes.
Along with the captivating characters and suspenseful mystery, there are several deliciously frightening moments in Anna Dressed in Blood that elicit genuine fear. And expect some truly disturbing horror elements as well. Ghosts are only produced when their deaths are violent or gruesome enough to create them, and Anna’s death along with the other ghosts in this book qualifies. Big time. They were never graphic enough to make me stop reading, but you might want to read Anna Dressed in Blood while the sun is still up if you scare easily.
Overall, Anna Dressed in Blood is the kind of book I’m envious of as a writer because it makes me realize just how lousy my own writing is. Kendare Blake has given us a gorgeously chilling ghost story full of strong but subtle characterizations, evocative prose, and atmospheric descriptions. Fans of Supernatural won’t want to miss it. I’ve already turned all the lights on in my house and am anxiously awaiting the follow up to titled Girl of Nightmares, which is due out in 2012.
Abigail Johnson is already trying to figure out the best way to make a dress that drips some kind of red liquid for her Halloween costume this year. She’d love your suggestions via the Tor.com Urban Fantasy Facebook and Twitter accounts.