May 16, 2012

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood

By: Kendare Blake
Published: August 2011 by Tor Teen
Format: Hardcover, 316 pages
First Reviewed: September 2011
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
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Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story.

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. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: 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.
But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.

Rating: 3/5

Literally, my immediate thoughts when I heard about this book many months ago: Oh my gah! Must. Have. This. Now! And my thoughts once I cracked open the book? Oh my gah! The font is reddd! Not kidding. It was pretty awesome. But my first thoughts about this book is that it didn't quite live up to my expectations, however, I did enjoy it.

I'm mixed on Blake's writing style. Part of me loved it. She has great use of metaphors and some bits of prose that were what I'd call gorgeous. The kind of paragraphs/lines people would quote. She also is great with keeping the reader. I never once strayed from the story, got lost, or bored, so kudos to her there. But I did have some issues.

First, even though the metaphors as a whole were fantastic, I feel as though she began to rely on them. It seemed after every description there'd be a "like blah blah." So even if I loved the metaphor, I became annoyed with the overuse of them. Second, the overuse of small descriptions. By that I mean something as simple as color. Blah blah, his green eyes, blah. After mentioning once, we've got it. We don't need to hear about it eighteen times (I didn't really count, but you know...). And even with the small descriptions that weren't mentioned more than once, I felt Blake could have either described in a different way or not described at all.

Third, Blake loves her passive voice. I found it extremely annoying. If you don't know what that means, it means things are happening when they should happen. For example (made this up, by the way): Thomas is tapping my head. Instead of: Thomas taps my head. If you read the book, pay attention to that and you'll notice the difference. Some of it's okay, obviously, but it took me out of the present story a bit.

Lastly, my main nitpick was the use of voice. In the beginning, I felt Cas sounded a bit too feminine. That feeling quickly dissipated, but then became a bit inconsistent for me. His main voice, the one that poked through the most, I really liked, but then it'd fall away. Oh, oh! Okay, I lied. There's one more main nitpick and that's that some of the dialogue was a bit unrealistic to me. Too narrative-y and/or old-fashioned. Sometimes it felt like the modern characters were more old-fashioned than Anna, who's not only from the 40s/50s, but who's also Finnish.

With the characters in general, it's another "on the fence" moment. I liked them, but there is one big problem I had with the characterization overall. It wasn't as developed as I think it should have been, so I never quite connected with anyone. The emotional connection between all of them was missing for me. Sure, Cas didn't know any of them that well, but they knew each other, and during certain moments in the book, I think I would have liked to see more emotion, confusion, fear, anger, sadness, etc.

Cas had all the elements there needed for a strong MC (though, I think having this from Anna's POV would have been the way to go; but that's just a personal preference), but he fell flat for me. Setting aside the inconsistency with his voice, like I mentioned earlier, I just found myself waiting for him to really get strong. Sure, we see him be strong, but I never felt that from inside him. Nor was there any part of him that really stood out.

Anna, by default, was my favorite character. The broken one, the ghost trapped in a terrifying spell. I felt that aspect of her--the pained, fragile girl--was developed well, but my problem lied with her differences from the modern-day teenagers. She died in the 50s, so she should have acted different, not to mention she had different morals/thoughts/etc. being Finnish. I would have loved to see that.

As for the major-minor characters, I liked the overall outline of them--what their purposes were and the characteristics Blake gave them--but as with Cas, they just weren't developed. I was a bit confused on the characterization of Will, Thomas seemed to pop in too quickly for me, and I feel some of the traits were a bit stereotypical. However, I did like Carmel, Cas's mom, and the cat. Oh, and our creepy antagonist was, well, pretty creepy.

As for the overall premise: Fantastic. I loved the originality of this. First off, you all know I love ghosts and anything to do with them. I don't think we get enough of this type of read. Blake even managed to creep me out and send me on a thrill ride to the point where I was almost late for work. Blake even gave us a subtle romance, which I appreciated, though I do wish we could have gotten just a tad bit more connection between the two. Just a hint more.

From start to finish, I was intrigued by this. I couldn't wait to read more every time I picked up the book. The mystery behind Anna and her death, the mystery to her powerful strength, the mystery behind our climax (won't say to avoid spoilers), it was all great. My biggest issue, though, was that I felt Blake could have done without the school setting. I felt it only distracted. Instead of throwing that in, I think it would have been better for the story if he was homeschooled and met our major-minor characters in town, or something. It would have given this story a little extra boost on the originality, which would have made it even better.

Along with that, there were some elements I felt were cliches that could have easily been avoided. Instead of Carmel being the popular girl and Mike being angry because of the whole "you messing with my girl?" thing, she could have picked something else and created conflicts maybe even stronger than the ones in here.

Lastly, one more element I really liked: The witch magic. I loved the addition of that. It made the entire story creepier. Oh, and I liked the humor parts, too; there were some funny things being said, I'll admit. I had one more nitpick, but I can't remember now. This is why I need to write down my thoughts while I read...oh! Okay, I remember. I didn't like how Cas handled the opening situation once he moved. I get that he moved a lot so he's used to it, but...I don't know. It just didn't work for me.

To wrap it up, I must mention the RED FONT(!!!) again. :) And I love the cover. It's awesome. I must mention, also, that there is language and gore in here. Cas curses quite a bit (f-words and the others). The f-words bothered me a bit (I think I could handle 2 or 3, but they were just thrown in and not needed, in my opinion), but the others were fine for me.

This book was on my must-get-my-hands-on list for months before it came out, so I was expecting it to be amazing and sit on my favorites-of-all-time shelf. But it let me down somewhat. I did thoroughly enjoy it, and I look forward to the sequel, but the characterization was too underdeveloped for me. The writing was good, not great, and the plot could have done without the cliches. But I did really like it. I recommend trying it out.

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