Thursday, 29 September 2011
‘Anna Dressed In Blood’ – Kendare Blake (Tor)
All of which, in a round about kind of way, brings me to the cover for ‘Anna Dressed In Blood’. Take one look at that haunting cover and tell me that you’d walk past without giving it a second glance at least. All those greys and blacks, with the merest hint of red, caught my eye straight away and a quick glance over the blurb pretty much decided it for me that I’d be reading this book.
Having finished it though... I’m wondering if my tendency to jump on nice cover art got the better of me this time round, and not in a good way...
Cas Lockwood is much like any other seventeen year old apart from one important detail... Cas kills ghosts for a living, just as his father did before him until his untimely death at the hands of a ghost that he was hunting.
Now Cas travels the country with his mother (a witch), taking note of ghosts that kill and killing them before they kill again. Their travels bring them to a small town in search of a ghost called ‘Anna Dressed In Blood’; a ghost that violently kills anyone who steps inside the house that she haunts, a ghost in a white dress stained red with her own blood. Cas has never come across anything like Anna Dressed In Blood, especially when she spares his life instead of killing him where he stands. There are questions that Cas needs to answer if he is to stop Anna killing again. Some of the answers though, they will take him further back into his past than he is ready to go...
‘Anna Dressed In Blood’ not only has a great premise, it also has a mystery demanding to be solved by a main character that I couldn’t help but find myself liking a lot. Cas Lockwood has a hard life but he is always willing to make that sacrifice, for his father’s memory, and aiming to be the best in what seems to be a very lonely profession despite everything else. You’ve got to admire that strength of will (especially when Blake makes you well aware of what Cas is deliberately choosing to miss out on) and I found myself rooting for Cas all the more because of it. Cas is able to dispatch ghosts in fine style and Blake shows us these moments in an understated way that is all the more powerful for this approach. I also enjoyed following the supporting cast and watching Cas slowly start to open up to others as they offered him their support (a great aid to Cas’ development as a character).
The initial mystery also drew me in very easily. What led Anna to haunt that house in the first place? And why is she able to stop herself killing Cas? These are some pretty intriguing questions and there was no doubt that I was going to be around to see how things played out, especially as it all takes place in a rather bleak setting that accentuates the challenge Cas is facing both with Anna as well as the world of ghosts in general.
Unfortunately, this is where things started to fall down for me and in quite a big way.
It may well be that I missed something but you never really find out why Anna is able to spare Cas’ life in the early stages of the book other than that ‘she doesn’t need to kill him’; she is one vicious ghost (Blake doesn’t pull any punches here, as is also the case with creepier moments that are full of tension) and there is no doubt that Cas would not have survived her attack. You’re just left to get on with it and the feeling I got from this was that Anna’s mercy wasn’t really a part of the plot, it was just there to let things move forward and that felt like a bit of a cheat to me. Admittedly, Cas and Anna’s relationship moves to some interesting places because of this but the way it is handled, in those early chapters, left me cold.
In the same kind of way, it felt that the two sub-plots (‘Cas and Anna’, ‘Cas and his past’) didn’t really gel and I guess I was looking for something a little more cohesive here. My big question (without giving too much away) was why Cas hadn’t encountered this situation much earlier. Blake offers a convincing explanation but it still felt awfully convenient that things would explode at the moment they did; almost like there wasn’t enough of the ‘Anna plot’ to carry things for a whole book and the ‘big reveal’ was needed a lot earlier than people realised.
Balancing things out, Blake does an amazing job of drawing the tension out (as Cas realises just what he is facing) and the finale is explosive and a little tragic at the same time.
‘Anna Dressed In Blood’ offers plenty to get you started but ultimately didn’t quite deliver for me, despite some promising moments. It’s a shame as the book had a lot of potential to begin with...
Seven out of Ten