“It’s probably going to be blood,” Thomas says in a regretful tone that doesn’t match the devious excitement in his eyes. “It’s almost always about blood.”
Anna Dressed in Blood blew my mind last year – in a good way. I will readily admit that it was pitched right up my alley – supernatural elements, with hunter(s) and Buffy-like dialogue. But it was also set in Canada – Thunder Bay to be specific, had some reasonably power adjusted MALE witches, and was creepy. Like genuinely deserved to be under the “Horror” branch. And well, I knew I would fall.
Anna Dressed in Blood was an ingenious title for a book about Cas, a teenaged male hunter from a long line of hunters on his dad’s side, and witches on his mom’s. He’s traveled to Thunder Bay with his Mom after his dad died, in order to put Anna away with the use of his Athame (for those who never studied Wicca for any time, an athame is like a dagger, a ritual dagger anyway). The Athame is the tool passed down through the hunters’ line that can pierce specters and have them leave the earth realm. Cas doesn’t know where they go, or how they get there, but he does stop ghosts from hurting people, and that’s good enough for him.
In Thunder Bay he encounters Thomas, the mind-reading witch that is like a Xander-Willo mix and Carmel, the popular girl in school with the add-kicking potential that flourishes when confronted by scary ghosts. Together, the three of them make a team that is supplemented by adult consultants and Anna herself, who in the end, overcomes her own curse to help them put away the demon-thing that killed and trapped Cas’ father.
And then you think all is done – Anna sacrifices herself for the rest of the Scooby Team, and Cas is left without his spirit girlfriend, but ultimately with two new friends to continue on his journey.
And then we open, six months later with Girl of Nightmares.
It’s been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can’t move on.
His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they’re right, but in Cas’s eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.
Now he’s seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he’s asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong…these aren’t just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.
Cas doesn’t know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn’t deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it’s time for him to return the favor.
So, we open up with a new type of Cas, first off. In the previous book, he was cocky – he knew what he did was important and he had enough hubris to make it so that he shone with his own glory. And then he fell, and fell hard. There is nothing more potent in a hero story then when your hero realizes that not all is how it seems, and begins to question his mission. I like this new Cas – he’s broken, confused and angry – so much so that it begins to affect his previously stellar abilities to re-kill the ghosties. It’s not just his blossoming love for Anna that is troubling him, but the visions he keeps seeing of a bloodied and tortured Anna that follow him around, begging for resolution.
Though the visions are never adequately explained, they’re creepy as all hell, and in them, we see a Cas that not only fell for the girl he meant to put away, but a Cas that feels a kinship with the girl who sacrificed herself in order to avenge Cas’ father when he could not. There is a measure of owing here, the feeling that Cas is indebted to Anna, made especially since he was powerless against the Obeahman
This theme of redemption, on Anna’s part, and Pursuing the Truth, on Cas’ part make Girl of Nightmares a lot more of a quest book then a strict Horror book, like the first. That doesn’t mean there isn’t horror – The Suicide Forest of Scotland and the ghosts that like to chow down on humans who enter it, are literary proof of the horror elements that made the first book so great. But there is more of a quest-like feel – with lots of new characters introduced and old characters to pit against them, people come out of the shadows, and about 3/4 of the way through, you’re not sure which characters you trust, which you don’t and where the line is.
And through this all, we still have character development: Thomas, who started off as a shy geek who eventually stepped up is now standing up for himself – he continues to explore the limits of his powers and the extent of loyalty in his friendship to Cas; Carmel goes through some growth and terrible decision making that at first feels a litttle forced, but by the last third of the book really turns around and you start to really appreciate the journey she took to get there – strong female characters don’t usually get a lot of voice from people, but I strongly believe Carmel deserves more spotlight.
But the most physical and scary development is in the Obeahman. The descriptions of him are mind-blowingly creepy:
If it’s possible, the Obeahman is bigger than I remember. His legs seem longer, and there are more bends to his back. It’s like seeing him through a funhouse mirror, elongated and unnatural. He still hasn’t seen me, hasn’t smelled me or heard me. He’s just bent over a low, flat stone, his arms working like a spider at a web, and I could swear that each arm has grown an extra joint.
Can you imagine it? I can – and it’s terrifying.
All in all – a great ending to the Anna series that leaves the door open for Cas and his friends to come back. My only regret is that Anna only featured, truly, for the last three or four chapters. I really liked her, and I wish there was more, but between Carmel, Thomas and Cas – I feel like the stories can continue!
Reccommend – not only this one, but the first!
Next to Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray