2012’s Anna Dressed in Blood is the first volume in Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood modern horror series.
Teenage Theseus Cassio “Cass” Lowood was given three things by his father:
- a moderately embarrassing name,
- an athame, and
- a determination to pursue his late father’s career as a ghost-hunter.
Cass transfers from high school to high school, chasing rumours of unquiet dead; he is supported in this mission by his widowed mother. He believes he is successful in his quest; he has dispatched many revenants with his inherited athame.
His latest quest will take him to Canada’s Thunder Bay, where Anna Dressed in Blood will turn his worldview upside down.
Anna Korlov was murdered in the 1950s; she has returned as a shade in a blood-soaked dress. Her shade lives in the house where she died. Anyone who enters the house attracts Anna’s wrath. Rumour has it that she has slain close to thirty people. Anna is just the sort of dangerous ghost Cass believes he should deal.
Establishing himself in a Thunder Bay high school proves easy enough. Local queen bee Carmel Jones makes a point of inviting Cass into her social circle. As one might expect, the students have heard the rumours about Anna Dressed in Blood, which for them is merely a titillating folk tale.
Venturing into Anna’s lair is a task that demands caution. New school chum Mike prefers a different approach, walloping Cass in the head with a board before tossing him into the house as Anna bait. This bold strategy yields mixed results. Anna is lured out into the open. However, the person she tears in half is Mike and not Cass.
Those of Mike’s friends who witness his death are traumatized. Luckily for them, there are no legal consequences for their role in Mike’s death. Adults (including the police) seem unable to accept the existence of the occult and are apparently compelled to accept even unconvincing lies rather than acknowledge the local killer ghost. Mike becomes just another missing teen.
Cass persists investigating Anna. He discovers a number of unexpected facts. He believes that Anna is more victim than monster and is determined to free her from her supernatural trap. Has the ghost killer fallen in love with his prey? Is romance with a homicidal (if pretty) dead girl a good idea?
It may not matter. Cass has all unawares brought something with him to Thunder Bay, something much worse than Anna Dressed in Blood.
Animal harm warning. A valiant pet dies trying to save its owner.
American readers may wonder if Thunder Bay is real or if the author just made it up. Well, yes, Thunder Bay is real. It amalgamated Fort William, Port Arthur, and the geographic townships of Neebing and McIntyre and was named for a local bay because someone got creative with the referendum ballot.
In fact, not only did the author use a very real Canadian city , she used a very real high school and vocational college, one that closed in 2018. This is one of a number of details that make it clear the book is set not just in a particular place, but a particular time, somewhere around 2008. (I prefer this to books set in nebulous somewhere and some nebulous now.)
Many of the novel’s characters make terrible decisions. For one thing: adult ghosthunters allow teen Cass to battle alone, facing entities that even veterans might struggle to defeat. They give him some support (useful information) but that would seem a feeble contribution. For another: Cass’ determination to redeem Anna. Add to this the attempt of Mike’s friends to form a kind of Scooby gang, which leads to a high adolescent death rate in Thunder Bay. Finally: no one seems to have properly investigated the death of Cass’ father. That failure leads to some nasty consequences.
Many of the characters are sympathetic; the reader will care about most of the deaths (although perhaps not Mike’s). The plot moves along at nice pace and not necessarily in the direction readers will expect. The ending is satisfying if read as a standalone; it’s a cliff-hanger in the context of the sequel. All in all, maybe not a pleasant way to spend an evening but certainly an entertaining one.
The first edition of Anna Dressed in Blood is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo). There’s a new edition coming out from Tor in September 2023.
1: “Canadian city” is not an oxymoron. Canada has more than three cities, each crammed with more than a dozen people. Several cities have electricity and running water.