Having just finished Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake, I find that I need to refresh my memory with what I thought of the first Anna installment because I found, the entire time I spent reading Girl of Nightmares, that I wasn’t reading very scary stuff and I recalled Anna Dressed in Blood being pretty darn scary. So, here’s how I started the Anna Dressed in Blood (AD in B) review: “Want to spend some time with a creepy scary ghost story? Then check out Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. It’s not the creepiest or the scariest but it’s not for the faint of heart either.”
I was looking to spend time with another creepy ghost story, or at least the continuation of one, but I find I won’t be having nightmares of Anna the way Cas does, the way I expected to when I picked this book up. I am not saying the second is bad. But there were definitely places where I was a frustrated reader. And there was definitely a lack of any fear the entire read. Where I found myself feeling like I was watching a good scary movie – you know, hearing the creepy music, knowing something is coming but not knowing what, and then jumping a little in my seat when it finally happens – while reading AD in B, that feeling never happened this time around.
Maybe it was the fact that the author seems to have built such a believable character and yet that believability is stripped quickly and utterly when Cas gets to London. Maybe it’s that the first was a pretty cool ghost story, with a little voodoo thrown in. Now, the turn to a secret society is unexpected and yet at the same time almost cliche in this genre. Maybe it was that while I expected Anna to be back (duh, it is the second in the “Anna” series), I expected a better plot. Or maybe it was that the story seemed to final, I was surprised that there really wasn’t a better story.
Before thinking that I just said the same thing twice, I see a subtle difference between story and plot. I look at the story as the overall message, the summary of what happens to the protagonists. It is where they are at the beginning, and how they get to where they are at the end, in a general sense. I see the plot as the individual steps and actions taken within the story to get the characters from the beginning to the end, the plot is the details. The story is the path and the plot are the steps taken on the path.
So, here’s where we are: Cas is hearing, seeing and dreaming of Anna. He believes he can bring her ghost back. And he sets out on a course to do so. That course takes him to London where he encounters the Order of the Black Dagger. The Order thinks his choices, his selectivity in choosing only to send dangerous ghosts over is straying from the path of the order. And it is the order who created the dagger in the first place. The order means to replace Cas with Jestine, someone they have trained and selected. Cas and Jestine cross over each with their own true purpose. And while on the other side, they fight the Obeahman (again for Cas) and Cas wants to/is trying to get Anna back.
I think I would have enjoyed a story that was again creepy and ghosty. This was instead not really either. Since we were familiar with the Obeahman from the first book, he wasn’t really creepy. And Anna was downright scary in AD in B – she certainly wasn’t here. This installment felt more like an extended epilogue than something that deserved an entire book.
There are some small problems I have with some of the details though. For example, the references to the suicide forest. There is a place in Japan that has earned that reputation; Scotland though? I couldn’t find anything similar. But the way the author sets that up, and has Cas comment on how famous it is, I expected to find some truth in that.
The dialogue is one of the best parts of both installments. The realism is wonderful and unusual (too often the YA authors have no idea what a teenager should sound like; they are too mature or too immature; the right balance is hard to find). There is just enough rawness to feel like we are really listening to teenagers. The “order of the blah blah blah” not only made me chuckle, but made me feel like I was listening to the conversation, not reading it. That to me, is the way to tell if it’s good dialogue. But… (I did say I had a few problems, right?) once our trio gets to London that’s where the dialogue starts to fall apart. It’s not that the individual sentences aren’t something I can still “hear” but it’s the overall point of the dialogue. Let face it, without a little outrage that the Order wants to put Cas through this, it makes all the dialogue seem much less real.
And that brings us to the most annoying and frustrating part of this plot. Cas and friends show up in London and are told that Cas is going to be tested. Why the hell doesn’t Cas say no? He just blindly, and without any resistance at all – none, nada, zilch, zippo, zero, null… – he goes alone with it. He once (maybe twice but clearly it’s not with any force so as to make me remember) he suggests he won’t cooperate, but he totally does. Without making any stink, trouble, waves or even a single “who are these people to think they can make me do this” thought. I was outraged. I was imagining myself Cas, and thinking that I would tell these people to take a flying leap. No person would just go along with it the way Cas does. He may want something from the Order, but he really doesn’t question anything, he just take it. And that is the issue I have with this book. To make the character seem more plausible, he should argue, try to think of alternatives, be pissed at Gideon, hate Jestine, at first resist going on the treck to Scotland. Something. But Cas doesn’t and it doesn’t make him a better character. It makes the plot harder to take.
Found this quote on the author’s webpage: “Kendare Blake writes like an aerialist; each lyrical leap is expert and fearless, leaving the reader reeling with breathless anticipation. Her books are truly magical.” Wish I could talk to the author of that quote – I would ask her to show me where these lyrical leaps are. There were good turns of phrase, and as I mentioned, the dialogue is generally good. But to call there are lyrical leaps that are expert and flawless… clearly we read two different books.
The nice change of pace is that there is little philosophy, theology or whatever you want to call the religious undertones that a lot of the YA genre is now pushing. I don’t really need to worry about what makes Hell Hell or if there is Heaven and what the Obeahman wants from the world at large (we know he just feeds off others ghosts and their pain we don’t need to know or understand why); there’s no end-of-the-world scenario that hinges on the theology of ghosts, angels, God, etc. Instead, it seems its meant to just be a creepy scary book. I thought we might be going there with the introduction of the Order and their philosophy, but we really only scratch the surface of that. So while I think it falls a little flat on the creepy scary scale, it was still nice that I didn’t need to keep track of right versus wrong, not really. Side note: I would have loved to have the author tell us which Queen of England the ghost in the Tower of London was supposed to be as I doubt not telling us was an important plot point to remember for later (especially since I can’t seem to verify if there will even be a book 3).
Girl of Nightmares won’t cause this reader nightmares, and I won’t be staying up late wishing for a third in the series. And that’s a shame because I would have taken a few nightmares in exchange for a better plot. But, overall, it’s a least an interesting little epilogue to the first installment.