Title: Dread Nation
Series: Dread Nation #1
Author: Justina Ireland
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: April 3rd, 2018 (Balzer + Bray)
Synopsis: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
American history takes a darker turn in this narrative where the Civil War grinds to a halt in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. Several years later, due to an Act passed by the government, Jane McKeene finds herself attending Miss Preston’s School of Combat, where black girls train to become Attendants and learn to fight the dead so that they can protect rich white families from the zombies. All Jane wants, however, is to finish her education and return to her home in Kentucky, mostly ignoring the political tensions in Baltimore. But when families in the area start to go missing, Jane finds herself with a mystery on her hands and is quickly drawn into a conspiracy far more dangerous than anything she imagined.
Going into this book, I didn’t really expect to like it all that much – zombies (or shamblers as they are called here) are so overdone – so I kept my expectations low. But Dread Nation took me by surprise at how much I ended up enjoying it, and the audiobook narration was a significant part of it. The narrator has done a great job with this and even the early chapters which are comparatively slower paced, were made very interesting. The snippets from Jane’s letters to her mother, and later, her mother’s responses, were an excellent way to learn introduce more of Jane’s story and also provide glimpses into the happenings back at her home of Rose Hill. I also really appreciated that despite this having all the elements of a zombie horror story, the depiction was not particularly gory or described in excessive detail.
Jane was a great protagonist, smart, brave, sassy and a truly delightful narrator whose POV it was so much fun to read from. I wasn’t all that fond of Katherine, but I really liked how the friendship between the two of them developed. Even more than the characters, I enjoyed the world building. Putting the walking dead to one side, the world Justina Ireland paints is one where slavery has been outlawed, but the extreme discrimination and racism is far from gone. Dread Nation puts a darker twist on an already dark period in history, where the zombies are the monsters you can see, but the true monsters are other humans.
The only thing I didn’t enjoy that much was when all our characters abruptly find themselves out West. The new setting took some time to get used to, especially after all the comparative refinement of the east coast, and Summerland is much more harsh than Baltimore. I felt that this part of the story was introduced rather late and hence pushes the majority of the action and mystery to the end, resulting in a somewhat uneven pacing.
Overall, this was a fantastic, unique read, both entertaining and thought-provoking, and I can’t wait to start reading the next book! Highly recommended!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series: