Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood

Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Paranormal, Romance
My Rating: ★★★★ (4/5 stars)

Anna Dressed in Blood

The Saga That Must Not Be Named left many things in its wake, and I used to think that one of them is the holocaust of paranormal romance in literature. Every YA bookshelf I checked became so crammed with mediocre girl-meets-(insert monster here) stories. The novels’ backbones were offshoots of offshoots, and the overly enthusiastic blurbs plastered on their backs did nothing to my doubt meter but shoot it up one notch higher after another. Once, when the don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-synopsis adage got my conscience tingling, I actually tried reading one. It didn’t work out. If unfinished readings were akin to relationships with no closure, I knew I was the jerk for breaking it off…and I didn’t care. I realized a long time ago that a bookworm’s life is too short to be spent on terrible books.

But then came Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood. Even if I swore not to flip open any YA paranormal romance novel again, I made an exception and picked it up. There were very good rumors about this novel floating in my trusted bookwormverse, so I think, “why not?” Also, I know that my love for Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom-type necromancers—those who instead of reviving the dead are actually putting the revived dead back to rest—will get the better of me. No point in even trying to resist the urge once I saw the book’s premise.

Anna Dressed in Blood follows the story of sixteen-year-old Cas Lowood. After his father’s demise in the hands of a murderous ghost, Cas has inherited an unusual vocation: killing the dead with a mysterious athame. With an oath to avenge his father clutched to his heart, he travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat, dispatching the vicious ghosts they manage to keep up while following local lore and legends. Pesky things like the future and friends are kept at bay, though Cas has to put up friendly veneers to coax out the information he needs from other people.

Cas doesn’t expect anything out of his three-step routine—track, hunt, kill—when he arrives in a town where the ghost they call Anna Dressed in Blood resides. But he finds out that Anna is quite different from the other phantoms he encountered before. Sure, like ordinary ghosts we hear of in urban legends, she’s still wearing the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder—once white, now drenched red with blood.  But that’s where the similarities stop. More than anything, Anna is a cursed entity, and she has killed everyone who ever dared to step into her home…except Cas, for some reason.

Anna Dressed in Blood singlehandedly restored my belief that there is no holocaust for paranormal romance lit. It isn’t perfect by any means, but I enjoyed every bit of it. To be fair, it wasn’t the kind of book that zeroes in solely on romance; two-thirds of the whole thing exuded an ambiance that is full of more profession-related obsession rather than romantic ones. I became a little too fascinated with Cas’ love for death itself, which subtly took center stage in those parts. With his superiority complex, self-destructive antics, and an inner sarcasm factory working 24/7, Cas is definitely going to be added to my favorite snarky antiheroes roster. His narrating voice is fun to read, though there are a few parts that I think would be better if written from someone else’s perspective.

While I knew beforehand that it’s going to be a horror story with a dangerous ghost in the forefront, I was still caught off guard by how it turned out to be a blood fest and gore galore. Kendare Blake takes “detailed writing” to a whole new level when she describes the murders. I commend that, and also the fact that she’s not afraid to kill off characters in a blink of an eye. That seems to be a little problem with YA books lately, I came to find: writers are so in love with every character they make—regardless if they’re good or bad—that they just don’t have the guts to wipe them off via death.

Anna Korlov’s character starts off as intriguing, and I gradually grew fond of her. I may be a little biased, though; I have a penchant for cutesy characters with a berserker’s streak, and Anna just happens to fall into that category. She isn’t like any girl protagonist whose bad deeds are sugarcoated so they can still pass as the heroine. Anna is Anna—she may once have been innocent, but her hands are forever dirtied with the blood of everyone she’s killed. I yearned for more of her 'living human' time, but I still thought she's three-dimensional even in death.

The other characters are amazingly colorful too, although I think they need a little more fleshing out. Carmel comes off as a flat “Queen Bee” character, and Thomas doesn’t seem to have any remarkable role other than the Side Kick who offers deus ex machina more than once. To be quite honest, the other minor characters like Gideon and Mofran sound more interesting than them; I wish these good ol’ men have more screen time (or page time, whatever you prefer to call it).

The plot can keep you up at night—not because it’s the kind of story that can instantly make you retreat to your pillow-and-sheets fortress with a wish of a nightmare-free slumber, but because it’s too engrossing that if you don’t finish it in one reading, you’ll definitely think about what will happen next before you go to sleep. When romance finally bloomed in the story, it did so without so much cheese. And excuse me for fangirling but I have admit, I root for Cas and Ana!

My only issue with the plot is that it is actually dual in nature. Three fourths of the book was trained on Anna’s enigmatic story, and I liked its pace and the direction it is going. Needless to say, I was quite disoriented when the focus shifted on something that I know is important, albeit one that looks better as a subplot till the end of the book. I would have liked it better if it was addressed in the sequel, but Blake has another plan in mind. It wasn’t so much of a big deal, really, but I think the transition would be smoother if it was done that way.

All in all, I liked Anna Dressed in Blood so much. I have a skyscraper-high to-read pile on my bedside table, but no one can stop me from reuniting with Anna Korlov on my next pay day. I’m going to purchase its sequel, Girl of Nightmares

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