Until yesterday, I was (from certain angles, and in the right light) a withered shadow of my former self. I was sloping about my life like a wraith, without direction, without purpose, without meaning, man. There may even have been wailing.
The reason? Why, I hadn’t read anything in ever so long, of course. I was pining for input, just like Johnny Five.
I think, in some ways, I’m sort of an addictive personality. For this reason, I’m glad that I don’t indulge in anything terribly harmful (chocolate isn’t classed as ‘terribly harmful’, right?) I have a feeling that I tend to be obsessive about certain things, and that it applies to destructive, as well as constructive, behaviour. Being aware of it is pretty much my only tool in the fight against it, but it’s a good tool to have. This obsessive tendency definitely applies to my need for words, whether reading them or writing them. Sometimes, though, there just isn’t room in my life for an obsession with reading them and writing them at the same time.
You’d think, being a person who devotes their life to words, that I’d read more than I used to, wouldn’t you? In fact, in my previous life, I had a long (long) commute to and from my job, and I had lunch-breaks, and things like that. Lately, though, the old compulsion to write has taken me over completely. I do so much of it that I end up with a stooped spine, gritty eyes, thumping head and spinning brain at the end of every day, and my mind is so stuffed full of my own words that there’s just no room in there for anyone else’s. Overall, I think I probably did more reading in my old life than I do now.
So, that’s why I took a day off yesterday, and trekked off across the sunny, cold countryside, and ended up in Dublin. I saw two friends, I drank pots of tea, I laughed a lot and I found myself in a bookshop. It was like that moment in ‘The Little Prince’ when they’ve been walking through the desert, and they come across the well, and they drink deep. Just like that.
So, I bought three books. I started the first one on the train home, and by the time I went to bed last night I’d finished it. If I’d put the book into a blender with a little olive oil and whizzed it until it was a paste and then drank it, I couldn’t have absorbed it any faster. The book was called ‘Anna Dressed in Blood’, and it’s by Kendare Blake, and it looks like this:
I’d heard about this book on Twitter a few weeks ago, and thought ‘Hmm. That might be worth checking out.’ Turns out, it was. I really enjoyed it. It tells the story of Cas Lowood, a young man who feels he has inherited his father’s ability (and duty) to dispatch unquiet spirits who disturb the living into ‘the next plane’; he’s not actually sure where he’s sending their souls, just that he has to get them away from the world, where they are causing pain. A clear distinction is drawn between ghosts who do no harm, and those powerful enough to become corporeal and who are stuck in their own agony, and who feel compelled to draw the living into their vengeful rage. Anna, who was murdered in 1956, is one of these harmful spirits; she is filled not only with fury but also with some sort of strange and unexplained power which allows her to do incredible damage to anyone foolish enough to cross her.
The story takes us back through Anna’s short life, the reasons for her rage and her amazing power, and – of course – through Cas’ own life and his relationship with his father, who was killed when Cas was a child. Cas’ mother is a great character, sympathetic and warm, protective yet respectful of her son’s need to fulfill his calling, and the friends Cas makes in Thunder Bay are made unique enough not to be ‘stock’ characters. For instance, Carmel – the beautiful, blonde ‘queen of the school’ whom Cas befriends on his first day in order to be close to the source of all knowledge and gossip, and to hopefully learn more about Anna and her ghost – turns out to be the least simpering and girly character you could imagine. Despite her prettiness, and her girliness, and the fact that she is adored by every male she meets, she displays serious muscle and courage in this story, defending those whom she loves and putting herself in danger to try to save others. I really liked her. Thomas, the ‘geeky’ sidekick, is a bit more one-dimensional, but he’s still a lovely creation – a young man who is also a witch and a (sometime) telepath, he does not run from his destiny but embraces it, danger and all. There is quite a bit of gore in the story, but I found it got a bit tamer as the book drew to a close. Perhaps I was just more used to it by then!
There are several different traditions, or schools of magic, woven together here – we have the ‘natural’ magic practised by Cas’ mother (of the herbs, tinctures and oils variety), to the voodoo practiced by Thomas’ grandfather and several other characters, to the unexplained and very disturbing rituals performed by a character central to Anna’s demise. I liked this, actually – I enjoyed reading about the interactions between all these ‘magics’, and how they all feed into one another. And, importantly, though I don’t normally like reading about ghosts, because I’m a fraidy-cat, this story did not keep me awake all night peering myopically into the shady corners of my bedroom, elbowing my husband awake every five minutes to check out a ‘noise’. It’s scary, but the friendships and love between the characters, and the warm familial connections described between Cas and his mother and Thomas and his grandfather, keep it from being too scary. So, overall, I’d recommend this book, with the caveat that there are several instances of ‘language’; I don’t mind reading those sorts of words, but I’m sure there are some people who do. So, this is fair warning! Also, as the book cover itself says, this story is definitely not for younger readers. It’s absolutely a book for older teenagers and adults, despite the fact that it’s about a bunch of high-schoolers.
I’ll read the other books as soon as possible, and I’m sure I’ll waffle on about those when the time comes. For now, though, my brain and eyes and soul feel better for having a day away from the screen yesterday, and I’ve made myself a promise not to stay away from reading for so long ever, ever again.
Knowing me, though, I’ll probably get lost in a story again later today and forget all my promises to myself.
P.S. If you’re still here, maybe check out the latest issue of ‘The Bohemyth’. There’s a story in it by a person you might recognise. Though, if you didn’t like ‘Animal Farm’ (my story, not Orwell’s, o’course), chances are you won’t like this one, either. I do apologise!