Review of 'Dread Nation'
By Justina Ireland, 2018
Historical fantasy, Horror, Young adult
Rating: 👻👻👻👻 (4 out of 4 boos)
“Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.
In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education 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.”
What's the main character like?
Immediately, Ireland establishes the main character Jane as a talented but imperfect student whom trouble seems to follow no matter what she does. She is stubborn, outspoken, and sarcastic, qualities made apparent particularly in her interactions with her “perfect” classmate Katherine and in her dealings with people trying to make her feel like she is inferior to them. As for the “softer” side of Jane, she misses home and has a bit of a romantic flair.
How scary is it?
The post civil war era was scary enough in its cementing of many racist policies. Ireland speaks to this dark history and other histories in the author’s note in her discussion of the forced education of American Indians, who were purposely stripped of their culture. So take the reality of a country trying to rebuild itself and some people in that country trying to keep others down, then add zombies to that. Pretty scary.
Who might like this book?
This book does justice to the zombie horror genre, so fans of The Walking Dead or Warm Bodies will most likely enjoy this book, which is the first in a series. I have particularly seen this book compared to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and agree with the comparison (although Dread Nation is better, as is the original Pride and Prejudice, in my humble opinion!). There is also enough history to satisfy readers of historical fiction, as long as they keep in mind Ireland was not going for complete historical accuracy.
What did I like best?
Ireland infuses this serious and scary book with lots of humor. There are a few discussions of corsets, for instance, and how they are not particularly conducive to fighting the flesh-eating dead.
What wasn’t my favorite?
I had the tiniest bit of trouble staying interested in the parts describing Jane’s backstory, but these bursts of exposition were overall helpful to defining her character and motivation and did not detract from the book.