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Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

 Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

About a year after my husband and I started dating, his father suggested a family outing to help to get to know each other better. Being in the proper sycophant mode that the early stages of a relationship require, I readily agreed. Of course, by now I know to thoroughly question any suggestion of my father-in-laws, and even then I had a slight inkling of a warning bell, which I, unfortunately, ignored.

As it turned out, the family outing involved spending the night in the local cemetery. As every well-adjusted family is wont to do. My father-in-law, you see, is a strict buddhist with a slight sense of the cuckoo, and rather liked the idea of getting close to his spiritual side by, well, getting close to some spirits. And so, off we went, sleeping bags and pillows and thermoses of green tea in tow, to sleep in a rotunda in the centre of the cemetery.

All went generally well (perhaps thanks to the chanting and circle walking of my father-in-law) with two exceptions. The first was that in the middle of the night we were woken by the police, who were highly dubious about our getting in some shut-eye at the cemetery.

And the second was the many, many floating white orbs that dotted the photos my father-in-law took that night.

Lets just say that its fortunate that unlike Cas Lowood, the ghost-busting protagonist of Kendare Blakes Anna Dressed in Blood, we werent there to cast any spookies back to the spirit realm. A couple of buddhists (the Chang family) and a pacifist (me) probably arent who you want to bank on when it comes to getting your Buffy on. Trust me when I say that youre better off placing your bets on Cas, for whom ghost slaying is a family vocation that goes way back.

Thats not to say that cleansing the world of things that go bump in the night is necessarily easy. You see, Cass dad was brutally killed one night in the line of duty. Killed, and then eaten, with great big chunks torn out of him. So its all up to Cas now, and its a duty he takes seriously, fielding reports of ghostly activity, moving in to take out his target, and then moving on to the next one.

But Cas has just received word of a mean ghost. A horrific ghost. A ghost who tears its victims from limb to limb, splits them in two, gouges their hearts out. A ghost who leaves its victims piling up in the basement. A ghost who was once Anna Karlov, but who is now Anna Dressed in Blood, and who Cas might, just might, be falling in love with.

This, as you might imagine, is never a good thing. Particularly given that Anna has just eviscerated one of the kids from Cass new school, and seems quite intent on gutting and drawing anyone else who crosses her path. Particularly since there have been other deaths reported in the area recently; other deaths that may have been at the hands of Anna. Whats a boy to do when the girl hes crushing on has a very questionable, very homicidal way of showing her affection?

But although Anna Dressed in Blood starts out all jeepers creepers and gore galore, its Gothic, moody vibe seems to ebb away as the story progresses, and the horror promised by the set up never actually eventuates. As suggested by the very large quote by Cassandra Clare on the cover (spellbinding and romantic), the book is MR James diluted with a good dose of Twilight, and its the romantic element, tenuous that it is, that results in the book being less suspenseful than might be hoped. Its a book that I expected to be vicious and cruel and witty and elegant, but rather its a bit more like a mid-season episode of Buffy. And not the singing episode, either.

Anna-of-the-grisly-name may be initially presented as an all-out terror who has the capacity to quickly end Cass ghost-hunting career, but we quite promptly learn that she has no ability to harm him, or even an interest in doing so. This, as you might imagine, rather reduces the tension of the narrative. The apparently fearsome nature of Anna is further diminished as we learn more about her and as she switches between different forms, but rather than this endearing her to me, to be honest I felt a little disappointed by the gradual unravelling of her character. Its rather like if Samson went out to hunt Goliath, only to find that this fearsome warrior of legend was quite content sitting inside his home and reading the newspaper. Sorry, Samson, lad. Ive retired so that I can spend more time on my vegetable garden. Jolly good that you called by, though, eh?

Because of this positioning of Anna and Cas, the way that the plot eventually unfolds feels a little by the numbers, and the second half of the book didnt hold my interest as much as the first. The Anna situation is effectively put away two-thirds through the book, resulting in a good deal of page extent that had still to be filled.

I couldnt help but feel that I was reading a series set-up more than a self-contained novel, and that this book was designed to bring the various key characters together, familiarise us with Cass back story, and introduce the real baddie for the series. As noted above, the plot involving Anna is almost side-stepped in order to deal with this element, something which, though probably the eeriest part of the book, was resolved surprisingly quickly and with relative ease.

Perhaps the weakest element of the book is the characters themselves, and the fact that they seem so devoid of emotion. I found it difficult to believe the way in which Cass school friends and his mother reacted to the various ghostly shenanigans and, oh, you know, the brutal murders of their friends, and I think its partly this that caused the book the lack the suspense I was expecting to feel. When characters react to such terrible things in an emotionally uninvested manner, its hard to believe that theres much at stake, or much to fear. I know that teenagers are famously apathetic, but I did feel that a more significant and ongoing reaction was warranted here.

The characters are similarly removed in their other interactions, and its hard not to see them as forcedthe would-be romantic tension between Cas and Anna as well as that between two of Cass new friends just feels more like a plot machination, and theres something that just rings false about it. I do wonder, however, whether this might be partly due to the fact that the book is told from Cass perspective, and Cas, who has just a wee bit of a superiority complex happening, is perhaps not the most perceptive when it comes to other peoples emotions.

Though Anna Dressed in Blood lacks the horror and tension needed to fulfil the promise of its opening, and its characters are underwhelming, it buzzes along at a solid pace, and theres enough here in the way of witchcraft and voodoo and ghosties to keep ones interest. Despite my reservations about the underwhelming plot and characters, Im interested to see where Blake takes the next in the series. As a Cemetery Slumber Party survivor, Im pretty sure I can hack it.

Rating: star Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blakestar Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blakestar Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blakeblankstar Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blakeblankstar Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (good)

With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy

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 Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake


  1. Wow, this is one helluva review! First up KUDOS on surviving a night in a cemetery with a slightly bonkers person. There was a legend at the church near us that every time the clock tolled for the quarter-hour, one spirit would return to the grave and another would rise to walk the cemetery. Lets just say our long childhood art classes sketching the gravestones were a fraught affair

    And thanks for this brilliantly-written review. Its let me know enough about the book to think I want to read it (all I knew about it was that it was about a vengeful ghost called Anna) but unlike the rave reviews Ive seen previously, its simmered my expectations down far enough that hopefully I wont be disappointed! If theres one thing I hate about reading new titles, its being disappointed. Thank you! :)

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Ellie! Wow, I love your story about art class in the cemetery! Theres definitely fodder for a ghost novel there!

      My pleasure about the review. I had very high hopes for this one, but though I did enjoy it, it just didnt quite chill or thrill me the way I hoped. That said, I do hope you find it an engrossing read if you do pick it up. :)

  2. Gosh, maybe youre a bit cuckoo yourself? LOL nah, you must have just really liked the guy;)

    Ive seen this book around quite a bit with lots of good reviews. I dont read horror novels of any kind but this book looks really attractive in a way I may give it a chance, one day

    • Stephanie /

      Mad, me? You dont know the half of it. ;)

      Id been dying to read this one after all the wonderful reviews Id read of it, and it really is quite enjoyable. But it just lacks the depth and polish I was hoping for, I think, and I didnt quite connect with it or feel the horror or terror I was supposed to. I do wonder whether it was pared back a little to make it more acceptable for Twilight-style fans, but obviously thats purely speculation on my behalf!