SERIES: Dread Nation, #1
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: YA, Alternate History, Zombies
REPRESENTATION: Bisexual mixed-race Black MC, AroAce mixed-race Black MC
QUICK NOTE: There has been critique of this book by some Black and Native American reviewers. You should definitely browse through their reviews as it’s not something I’m qualified to comment on.
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.
Dread Nation is an alternate history based around the idea that the zombie apocalypse happened during the Battle of Gettysburg.
The book follows Jane McKeene, a mixed-race Black girl who has been trained in a school for ‘attendants’: essentially a lady’s maid meets zombie fighter.
Sort of like Mira Grant’s Feed, I’d say this is a zombie novel that’s not really about zombies. You don’t have to be a Dawn of the Dead or The Walking Dead fan to enjoy it.
The first part of the book takes place around the world at Miss Preston’s School of Combat, and lets us get to know the characters. This part was a tad slow. Ireland emulates a sort of ‘classic’ novel feel — using titles such as “In Which I am Found Lacking” etc, and a more “telling” style of writing. I really like that type of writing but readers who prefer direct, “showing” language might struggle to connect.
The action picks up a bit once Jane, Kate, and Jackson stumble upon something they shouldn’t and they end up in a frontier-style town run by a racist religious-zealot.
I really loved the characters in Dread Nation — I really think this was the novel’s strength. I thought Jane was brave, clever, and had just that hint of ruthlessness that I really admire in a character. I also loved Kate, who was snarky and more idealistic, and added a comedic counterpoint. I enjoyed watching the girls bicker, and their friendship develop over the course of the novel. Jackson was a little bit of a miss for me. I was also really intrigued by Jane’s mother, who we get to hear about a little bit through Jane’s flashbacks and the letters back-and-forth between them. She seems like a really interesting woman and I’m hoping that in the sequel Jane is going to get back in contact and we’ll get to see the two of them interact more.
I really enjoyed Dread Nation, especially Jane and Kate, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel as soon as it comes out