Thursday, September 15, 2011

A haunted Scooby gang

Anna Dressed in BloodI love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Love. It's one of my favorite shows, and I think it's fair to say that the show's influence on me has been profound. So when I tell you that Kendare Blake's excellent YA horror novel, Anna Dressed in Blood is Buffyesque, I hope you'll understand how much of a compliment I mean that to be.

One of the things I loved best about Buffy was the interaction between the Scooby gang. All of the characters were real, and their relationships with each other were as well. That central cohort of characters is the biggest thing that made me think "Buffy" when reading Anna Dressed in Blood. (Well, that and the presence of a minor character named Will Rosenberg.)

Anna Dressed in Blood is the story of Cas Lowood, a teenager who kills homicidal ghosts. This vocation belonged to Cas's father before him, until one of those ghosts murdered Cas's Dad. Anna Dressed in Blood is the ghost he's come to kill. She's a brutally murdered teenage girl, who - dressed in the blood-soaked white dress she wore when she died - is now trapped in a house full of her victims. But as Cas discovers when he meets Anna, things aren't quite as simple as that.

Cas is used to working alone. Due to his connection with his father's athame, he is actually the only person who can kill the ghosts. But as he deals with Anna, he's supported by his kitchen witch Mom, her spirit-detecting cat, Tybalt (Blake is really great at names), and then two people he meets at his new high school - the witch Thomas Sabin, and the beautiful Carmel Jones. Each of these characters are fully developed, and their interactions with Cas and each other follow organically from that. I particularly enjoyed Blake's handling of Carmel, who could so easily have been a cliché, instead of a person.

Indeed, it is the excellence with which the group dynamic is handled that made me wish Blake had developed the romantic one - the connections between Cas and Anna, and Thomas and Carmel, a bit more. But that is a minor quibble. Anna Dressed in Blood is a great story that is truly scary - at times even brutal. It is also a story about the power of friendship, and redemption, and looking beyond the surface of things (and people) for their truth.

Finally, because I am a sucker for beautiful things as much as I am a sucker for witty groups of teenagers fighting evil, I have to mention that this is a gorgeous book. Not just Nekro's gorgeous jacket art, but the text itself, which is printed in burgundy ink. Perhaps not a reason on its own to give Anna Dressed in Blood a read, but it was one more layer of enjoyment.