When I first bought Anna Dressed in Blood last year, it was straight down to how pretty the cover was. Ghost stories where the ghosts are characters aren’t necessarily my thing because too often it’s either a Casper the Friendly Ghost situation or some truly evil Malevolent Spirit. Anna, though, was a fresh take on that idea, a perfect combination of both and she and Cas and the whole spooky, creepy atmosphere of their story drew me right in. As satisfied as I was with Anna’s ending, I couldn’t help wanting more. Good characters will inspire that in a reader, after all. So I was very excited to find out that Girl of Nightmares was coming, even more excited when I finally read it, and I’m clearly excited to get to talk about it now. Warning: It is basically impossible to talk about Girl of Nightmares without spoiling Anna, so if you have failed to read Anna Dressed in Blood (silly you!), stop reading now!
It’s been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can’t move on. His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they’re right, but in Cas’s eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.
Now he’s seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he’s asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong…these aren’t just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears. Cas doesn’t know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn’t deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it’s time for him to return the favor.
To get the inevitable out of the way, no, I didn’t love Girl of Nightmares as much as I loved Anna Dressed in Blood, but I do think the storytelling was better. I respected it more because Nightmares was a more realistic and gritty book: it’s about the consequences Cas has to face up to if he wants to keep living his life as he has. There are consequences to loving a ghost. There are consequences to being a ghost hunter. There are consequences to involving your friends. Facing those consequences is hard.
Cas spends a lot of this book confused or worried or unhappy or scared or even angry, and so in a lot of ways Nightmares is a harder book to read. You spend all of Anna falling in love with Cas and falling in love with Anna, Thomas, and Carmel, and those relationships struggle in this book. All you want in the world is to reparo everything back together, but Kendare Blake’s writing makes it clear that there is no simple solution no matter how hard you will there to be one. That made me a sad panda, but it also made this book poignant and beautiful in its own right.
Cas sort of broke my heart in this book. For the first time ever, he’s stayed in one place long enough to have to start thinking about how different his life might be. He questions what he’s doing, and he does it all in such a realistic way.
What makes that work is how well drawn and whole the background cast is. Every single character in this book has a background and a story and none of it seems simple or formulaic. I really enjoyed the grownups in this book, which, as a (reluctant) adult, is important to me. Both Cas’s mom and Thomas’s grandfather were the kind of adult that advises and tries to protect their charges, but also recognizes they aren’t delicate snowflakes that need to be coddled.
Thomas and Carmel had a story going on that we got enough glimpses of to care, but not so many that it seemed ridiculous in a first person point of view. Both Thomas and Carmel are what I think of as complete characters. I see more about them than I am told, and, if they were gingerbread people, they would not be perfectly cut, they’d be all smooshy and delicious and decorated to perfection anyway (I apparently need a snack).
But more importantly, I could feel Thomas and Carmel’s connection, to each other and to Cas. I saw their friendship, the whys and the hows and the whats of it. It reminded me a lot of Harry Potter and the ultimate friend trio. There was depth there that was established quickly, but also believably, in Anna. But, consequences, that quickness makes the events of Nightmares very overwhelming so…strife.
The pacing of this book was very different than Anna. It was a slower burn, but that worked really well because the tone of Nightmares was so damn ominous. There were a few parts where I kept waiting for something to happen, but the waiting and the wondering were what drove this book. This did pose a problem with the ending which, comparatively, felt like a whole book stuffed together into fifty pages because that’s where all the action of this book happens. But even still, it worked with the buildup and it worked with the story being told.
Overall, I am torn in a million pieces about Girl of Nightmares. It was a tough book to read because it was a tough book for Cas to live through. Kendare Blake told a complete story, but she told it with completely wonderful characters who stick in your gut. Girl of Nightmares is an excellent end to this duology, but it also made me want to punch myself in the face for bemoaning the fact that every other YA series is a trilogy. Kate, meet Karma. So I was satisfied with the ending, but I can’t help craving more. More Anna. More Cas. More ghosthunting. But mostly more Cas.