Kendare Blake's Anna series (although there are only two books so far, so it may remain a duology, I'm not sure).
Theseus Cassio (Cas for short) is not a typical teenage boy, by any definition of the word "typical." He has taken over the family business - dispatching murderous ghosts from off this earthly plane. This work has the family move frequently from place to place, all over the world, wherever the latest legitimate tip sends them; this time, they've followed a tip to Thunder Bay, Ontario, where Cas intends to find and "kill" the ghost known as Anna Dressed in Blood, a teenage girl who was found murdered in the 1950s, and whose ghost has been busy literally ripping apart anyone unfortunate enough to set foot in her house since.
For Cas, this case feels different from the start, and his instinct proves true when Anna turns out to be unlike any ghost he's yet encountered. Will he be able to finish the job he came here to do?
I got this book back when it was new and making its initial rounds in the book blog community, but I only just got around to reading it; the premise and the cover art really drew me in. I enjoy paranormal fiction and ghosts, so this seemed right up my alley. For the most part, it didn't totally disappoint.
I like that Blake uses aspects of real-life witchcraft and voodoo practices in tandem with her imagination to create the paranormal elements in Anna Dressed in Blood; Cas himself is skeptical about the realness and practicality of such practices, but I feel like he's one of the last people who should turn up his nose at such things, knowing what he knows and doing what he does - the tool of his trade is an heirloom athame, for fuck's sake. Quite frankly, I didn't much care for Cas in general. He's a broody, pretentious douchebag. His usual method of learning about ghosts from the locals is to go straight to the popular girls at whatever school he's enrolled in, because they know all the gossip and he's So Good-Looking they of course cannot resist his charms.
Yes, you read that right.
But he has no time for girls (#sorrynotsorry for stringing you all along), or anyone else, for that matter, except his mom and the ghosts he's hunting down, so when we meet Cas, he's just a loner who fancies himself some kind of antihero, except he's really just kind of a self-important dick.
Speaking of school, though, I couldn't help but wonder through the entire book why Cas's parents weren't just homeschooling him, since they moved so much - they basically pack up and move on after each ghost job is done. Hardly seems long enough to have him enrolled anywhere - by the time his record has made it to the new school, they're probably planning the next move or on the road already. Why even go to all the trouble, when homeschooling is a totally viable option?
But all these young adult books involve high school and all the teenage melodrama that comes with high school stories, so I guess that's why Blake didn't allow Cas's family to go the route that would be convenient and obvious for their situation. If they'd homeschooled, she'd have had to use a different way for Cas to interact with the Mean Girls led by the Actually Not So Mean Girl or the army of equally one-dimensional bully jocks or the quiet outcast with a secret who pines after Actually Not So Mean Girl, all of whom become Cas's predictably unlikely companions.
I know that so far, this sounds like I didn't like Anna Dressed in Blood. And yeah, it wasn't my favorite book, by far. But it also wasn't the worst book I've ever read. The story was still interesting and contained a few surprises that kept me intrigued enough to want to finish the book - as opposed to the few books I've finished reading simply because I don't like leaving books unfinished.
The one main element to this book that I could have really done without was the Cas/Anna romance; I don't think it added anything at all to the story, apart from being the reason Blake uses for why Anna doesn't kill Cas outright, like she killed everyone else who went inside her house. There were other options that would have served much better: maybe she doesn't kill him because she can sense how he is different from typical humans. But no: again, these are high school characters, with all the angst and insta-love geometry that is so popular in books and movies featuring teenagers, so we get this shallow, thrown-together, star-crossed lovers trope.
I did appreciate how Blake doesn't shy away from getting graphic with the gory bits, and Anna herself was, appropriately, the most well-developed character in the book. Honestly, she is the only well-developed character in the book. I'll probably pick up the second book in this series eventually, but since it sounds like it's still Cas-centric but with even more brooding and star-crossed insta-love angst, I'm not expecting to like it much better. I wish the title character were the main character, but it is what it is.
Bottom line, Anna Dressed in Blood was alright, especially if you're looking for something paranormal-themed that's a nice, quick read, and you aren't put off by a predictable YA formula and writing that comes off a bit juvenile.
Series info: What came before this book? What's next?
* Anna Dressed in Blood (Book 1)
- Girl of Nightmares (Book 2)