(I purchased this book.)
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. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: 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.
Yet she spares Cas's life.
This was a delightfully creepy and intense teen horror novel that grabbed me from the beginning. Cas is the narrator, a seventeen year old boy who has been killing dangerous ghosts for years, a skill he inherited from his murdered father along with a power-infused athame (ritual knife). Cas and his mother move every few months as they hunt and kill ghosts who are killing humans. They have a convenient and secretive extensive network of friends who know of their abilities, and many of their ghost tips come from referrals from previous exterminations. Apparently Cas' father was part of some arcane college group providing Cas and his mother with support, and research when necessary.
Cas is a really interesting character. Raised in the lifestyle of his roving ghost-killing father and witch-mother, he's never known another way of living, and his goal in life has been to kill the ghost that murdered his father. For the most part, Cas doesn't act or think like a typical teenager, and going to school is just a necessary exercise in fitting in and making contacts to extract local ghost stories. But when he moves to Thunder Bay to investigate a local ghost called Anna Dressed In Blood, his habits begin to change. He actually makes a couple of friends, in spite of his arrogance and condescending attitude. He observes his fellow students in a patronizing and superior manner, much like an observer from another species. And in a way, Cas IS from another species. He's not normal, his family's not normal, and his destiny and abilities set him apart from others. But the world of the living is starting to reach out to Cas, just as Anna will reach out to him in a most unexpected manner.
I know this book has been out for two years, but to describe any more plot details would really be more of a spoiler. So I'll focus on the writing.
Kendare Blake is a hypnotic writer. The prose moves along in a rhythmic cadence that bespells the reader, cocooning them in a magical bubble that is the world of Anna Dressed In Blood.
Here is an example early in the story, shortly after Cas has arrived in Thunder Bay and is searching for Anna's house.
"I can feel her there, mingled into the mud of a hundred other ghosts, some shuffling and harmless, others full of rage. I can't imagine what it is to be dead; it's a strange idea to me, having known so many ghosts. It's still a mystery. I don't quite understand why some people stay and others don't. I wonder where those who leave have gone. I wonder if the ones I kill go to the same place."
The near-hypnotic quality is enhanced by the author's use of the present tense, placing the reader in the story as it's happening and creating a sense of urgency. I could not put this book down.
Is this a perfect book? Nope, if there even is such a thing - books are too personal. But the discrepancies and plot shortcuts (Cas gets letters everywhere he moves about ghost tips, but he lives a secret nomadic life? A mysterious mentor of his father's who gives out tidbits of info at critical times. How come Cas and his mother talk about their cat being able to see ghosts, but ignore the poor feline when he is FREAKING OUT about their new attic?) are happily overlooked by the magical world of Anna Dressed In Blood.
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