Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.
So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
Yet she spares Cas’s life.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD
- It Was Short Never underestimate the value of knowing the end is nigh to stave off potential boredom. I was able to finish Anna Dressed in Blood over the course of a couple of lunch breaks, and it kept my attention, moved along at a good clip, and didn’t drag out the premise as long as I expected it to. It tells a fairly complete story in two hundred pages, and excepting that last sequel-bait sentence at the end, this could easily be a one-and-done. I appreciate the lack of narrative compulsion to check out the sequel.
- That One Scene With the Bad Guy Coming Down from the Attic That Was Almost Scary
- Carmel I don’t want to say Carmel is a subversion of the Alpha Bitch trope, because she’s not, exactly, but she is a good example of turning that kind of one-dimensional archetype in to a character more closely resembling a human being. She is confident, pretty, and popular, but she’s not shit on for this traits, nor are they the only ones she’s allowed. Carmel proves herself to be resourceful, brave, and loyal, and even gets the opportunity to use her popularity to the mission’s benefit. There are so many books where the Alpha Bitch is the villain, and plenty where she’s an unexpected heroine, but very rarely do we see that kind of character as an ally or support to a separate protagonist, so you know, it was a nice change. I would’ve loved to see her as ally to a heroine, and even more if she hadn’t been saddled with a nice-guy nerdy love interest, but on her own, Carmel was an interesting character. A+. Would’ve been a lot worse without her.
- This One Exchange
“I like Carmel,” says Anna. “I didn’t at first.”I agree, Anna! And to be fair, any jealousy between the two was brief, irrelevant to the plot, and non-existent on Carmel’s end. No fighting over boys, yaaaaay. Low bars.
She shrugs. “I thought she was your girlfriend.” She smiles. “But that’s a silly reason to dislike someone.”
- THE PROTAGONIST
- Literally Everything About Him Ahahaha, I kid, but no, it’s actually true. I could not find a thing to hold on to in Cas. Every last bit of his personality and attitude made me want to punch him in the face. For example,
- His Whiny, Sad-Sack Narration Okay, so the idea is that Cas is a ghost hunter, like his father before him, and in order to continue on his father’s work after his death, he goes around the country killing ghosts, moving to a new place every couple of months based on where his various tips and instincts take him. Naturally this sort of life has left him friendless and alone, isolated from his peers thanks to the trauma of his father’s death, and his dealings with the ~unseen world~ around them. The book really wants him to come off as a combination of Buffy and the Winchester brothers – it even calls him Buffy, once – but there are a couple of vital details of Cas’ situation that keep that comparison from working for me.
- He’s a Condescending Dick See above. If you have never put a ghost back in its grave, Cas does not think you are worth his time. People are mindless liabilities until proven otherwise. Also-also,
- He Treats His Mother Like Shit No, really, like actual shit. It’s a point of serious annoyance for me that Cas’ mom is a complete doormat. I mentioned above that he has an “improbable” level of control over his life, and that is absolutely true. Even though Cas is fucking seventeen, he totally wears the pants in their relationship, and obviously has for quite some time. Cas is the one who decides where the family is going to move to, and when. It was Cas who decided that he was going to be a ghost hunter, despite his mother’s completely understandable wishes. She exerts no parental authority over him. He has no curfew, he isn’t punished for skipping school, he isn’t asked to do chores, he doesn’t get berated for doing dangerous things, nothing. Though she obviously has opinions about what he should do with his life and knows more about it than than her pissy little seventeen-year-old baby, her influence is limited to soft, impotent suggestions that Cas completely ignores. I mean, I can’t emphasize her improbable lack of involvement enough. She is basically Cas’ Alfred, his fucking man-servant. She stays home and cleans the house and waits up for him at night, probably worrying sick, and she tends his wounds and purifies his weapons and occasionally she lends her Wiccan skills to his cause.
- This Book is Kinda Sexist Yeah, it’s not super-loud about it, and most of the dick-swinging misogyny comes from the bad dudes, but there’s were quite a few moments that made me wince, and they came from multiple characters.
- The Whole Anna Thing So, boy meets ghost, ghost literally rips a kid to shreds in front of him, boy develops boner for ghost, ghost inexplicably develops ghost-boner for boy, boy and ghost embark on tragic love story. What the hell, man?
- The Villain is a Dead Black Voodoo Zombie Yeah. Pretty ballsy, Anna Dressed in Blood. Zero non-white characters in your entire cast, and you still feel confident enough to break out the ol’ Black Guy Villain. Not just any villain, mind you, but a Cajun-accented voodoo-subset-using animalistic zombie who eats sad white people to gain their powers. Pretty brave. Totally not trading in fear-mongering stereotypes about African religions there. Also, I appreciate the willingness to demonize voodoo as a practice entirely. Wicca, totally cool, nothing but white magic there, but don’t you even touch a voodoo talisman, goddammit, we will slap the shit out of you. Classy.
- It Wasn’t Scary Except for that previously mentioned part that was almost scary, Anna Dressed in Blood falls in to the Asylum trap of describing things that would probably look cool in a movie, but are not all that scary on their own. Yet again, there’s no atmosphere, no mood, and except for one incredibly brief moment of anticipation, the horror is just gore, and it’s gore that is quickly sidelined in favor of long talks about our feelings. Fucking romance, you guys. Ruins everything.
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THE PROTAGONIST OF ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD:
1) He hasn’t been chosen by fate. There’s no mystical council assigning him a handler and monitoring his progress, and he is not the “one boy in all the world” who is capable of ridding the world of evil. It’s made pretty clear that there are other people in the world who do what Cas does (a’la Supernatural‘s hunters), so there’s absolutely no outside pressure or obligation to remain on his path.
2) He’s a fucking infant. Despite his maddeningly world-weary narration, he’s not an old dog who’s ~devoted his life to this~. It’s not ~the only thing he’s ever known~, and he hasn’t ~lost everything~ to this life. Yes, his father died, and that was terrible, but he’s still got an absurdly understanding mother, a supportive grandfather-figure, a hefty trust fund, and he’s not even out of goddamn high school yet. He’s not exactly in a bad life situation.
Basically, my annoyance boils down to the fact that, as improbable as it may be for a teenage boy to have as much control over his own life as Cas does, the source of his insufferable angst is of his own making. He whines constantly about how he can’t have friends, about how he can’t let people get close to him, because he’s just going to leave, move on to the next hunt, but none of that is mandatory. He doesn’t have to keep moving around, he chooses to. He chooses to isolate himself from other people, and then act like it’s this huge, heavy burden that he has to carry around. And oh my god that annoyed the shit out of me.
Now granted, I get that this is part of his arc, that ultimately he learns about the power of friendship and attachments and that people aren’t just liabilities, I get that. But he still has that woe-is-me-attitude for so much of the book, and he just doesn’t learn…enough for me, I guess. Like, I really wanted him taken down a peg for being such a morose, self-involved jackass, but while he does end up breaking his rules and making attachments despite himself, I guess it just doesn’t crush his ego enough for me. It’s all very grudging, like, “Well, OKAY, I’ll allow you to hang out with me, but I don’t like it!” and then after a certain point he just doesn’t complain about them as much anymore. There’s not really a point at which he is less of a self-involved jackass. Also,
The one and only time in the book she even tries telling Cas what to do, he treats her like a hysterical fucking child.
“You heard me. Pack your things. This instant. We’re leaving.” She pushes past me and flies up the stairs, presumably to get started. I follow with a groan. There’s no time for this. She’s going to have to calm down and stay put. She can pack me up and toss my stuff into boxes. She can load it into a U-Haul. But my body is not leaving until this ghost is gone.Oh my god, if I’d spoken that way to my mother when I was seventeen – if I spoke that way to my mother now – I’m pretty sure she would just straight-up backhand me. This fucking kid has no respect, and this is towards the end of the book, when he’s supposed to be changing. But his treatment of his mother actually gets worse, towards the end because she becomes a damsel. Despite being an experienced Wiccan in a supernatural world where that could grant her any number of support powers, Cas’ mom is relegated to making potions and then being ordered to stay out of the way somewhere “safe” while Cas defeats the bad guy. He even considers having the other two male characters remove her and Carmel from the area during the climax because he doesn’t think they can defend themselves, but trusts the men to “put up a good fight”. Which actually transitions pretty nicely into our next point,
“Mom,” I say, going after the last of her trailing sweater into my bedroom. “Will you stop flipping out? I’m not leaving.” I pause. Her efficiency is unmatched. All of my socks are already out of my drawer and set in an ordered stack on my dresser. Even the striped ones are to one side of the plain.
“We are leaving,” she says without missing a beat in her ransacking of my room. “If I have to knock you unconscious and drag you from this house, we are leaving.”
“Mom, settle down.”
“Do not tell me to settle down.” The words are delivered in a controlled yell, a yell straight from the pit of her tensed stomach. She stops and stands still with her hands in my half-emptied drawers. “That thing killed my husband.”
“It’s not going to get you, too.” Hands and socks and boxer shorts start flying again. I wish she hadn’t started with my underwear drawer.
“I have to stop it.”
“Let someone else do it,” she snaps. “I should have told you this before; I should have told you that this wasn’t your duty or your birthright or anything like that after your father died. Other people can do this.”
“Not that many other people,” I say. This is making me mad. I know she isn’t trying to, but I feel like she’s dishonoring my dad. “And not this time.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I choose to,” I say. I’ve lost the battle to keep my voice down. “If we go, it follows. And if I don’t kill it, it eats people. Don’t you get it?” Finally, I tell her what I’ve always kept secret. “This is what I’ve waited for. What I’ve trained for. I’ve been researching this ghost since I found the voodoo cross in Baton Rouge.”
My mom slams my drawers shut. Her cheeks are red and she’s got wet, shiny eyes. She looks about ready to throttle me. “That thing killed him,” she says. “It can kill you too.”
“Thanks.” I throw up my hands. “Thanks for your vote of confidence.”
“Wait. Shut up.” I don’t often tell my mother to shut up. In fact, I don’t know if I ever have. But she needs to. Because something in my room doesn’t make sense. There’s something here that shouldn’t be here.
Thomas is quiet all the way to Anna’s. He’s probably still thinking about the feel of Carmel’s hand on his arm. If life were fair, Carmel would turn around and look into his eyes, see that he’s her willing slave, and be grateful. She’d lift him up and he wouldn’t be a slave anymore, he’d just be Thomas, and they’d be glad to have each other. But life isn’t fair. She’ll probably end up with Will, or some other jock, and Thomas will suffer quietly.There’s that bullshit friend-zone romance subplot that Carmel got saddled with. Excuse me while I vomit into a bathroom trashcan. I mean, how dare Carmel exercise her right to not be interested in some pathetic little asshole who can’t summon up the cojones to tell her how he feels! Obviously she is then completely responsible for his inability to fucking get over it, amirite?
“Carmel’s a very pretty girl,” she says hopefully.That’s not – that’s not what girls are for, Cas’ mom. Jesus, are boys just not expected to be responsible for any aspect of their physical or emotional lives? Ohp, he doesn’t bathe, guess he needs a woman to tell him to get in the fucking shower. UGH.
“Thomas seems to think so.”
She sighs, then smiles. “Good. He could use a woman’s touch.”
“Mom,” I groan. “Gross.”
“Not that kind of touch,” she laughs. “I mean he needs someone to clean him up. Make him stand up straight. That boy is all wrinkles. And he smells like an old man’s pipe.”
Then there’s Thomas:
“Wow,” Thomas breathes. “Girls are bitches.”Wow. I don’t exactly mind Carmel’s response, but you know who gets popped in the face after that first line? Yeah, that would be Thomas.
Carmel’s eyes widen; then she grins. “Of course we are. But don’t let that distract you.”
It doesn’t help that Carmel and Anna are very pointedly exceptional women here. Every other girl who shows up in the book is a member of Carmel’s posse, and they’re written as airheaded, giggly, and mindless, and Cas literally makes no effort to tell them apart. Carmel is only exempt from this rule because Cas intends to use her for information, and she doggedly latches on to the ensuing investigation in to Anna.
I object to basically all of this. The contrivances required to even spark this romance in the first place are massive. Why did Anna not kill Cas on sight like she did every other human being who walked in to her house? Why did Cas instantly develop a total hard-on for her, insteady of being repulsed by her human-shredding ways the way he was with every other ghost? Why was he “drawn” to Anna from across an entirely different country in the first place? What did they come to see in each other after Cas adjusted to the fact that Anna was not going to shred him to bits like she had every other person who walked through her door, including that boy that she shredded right in front of him in the beginning? I don’t get it. I don’t buy it.
Anna was kinda a let-down, herself. I would have loved her to just be an insanely powerful ghosty nemesis, who kills for vicious fun and manipulates stupid little boys who get weird boners for her into setting her free, but she’s not. In order to make her an “acceptable” love interest and facilitate her redemption arc, Anna’s malicious intent has to be completely separated from her as a conscious entity. She didn’t want to be a total badass ghostly killing machine, the house was making her do it, or something, I guess. Look how sad she is about it, oh man, doesn’t that make it totally okay that she ripped a boy to shreds in like the second chapter? IT’S OK CAS, TOTALLY ISN’T WEIRD TO WANT TO KISS HER NOW.
I guess it gets a little better in the second half, when Cas completes a ritual to restore her goddamn agency, and Anna gets to keep her badass evil ghost powers and use them to fight the big bad on Cas’ behalf, making her the one character in the entire book who gets to be more useful than him. That was nice. But ugh, then she sacrifices her badass self to save Cas and atone and aughhhh why? I did not expect or want this to be about ghost fucking, tbh, and the doomed teenager romance is completely wasted on me.
Also, since Anna isn’t the villain, that means we have to have someone else step in for the final fight, and, well…
So yeah, man, that was Anna Dressed in Blood. Not scary, douchebag protagonist, gross stereotyping, let-down plot, and ghost boners. Not a big fan. Hoping the next one on the Spooktacular list will be a little more satisfying.