Format: E-Galley, 464 pages
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Young Adult / Action & Adventure
A story of the undead like you’ve never read before, Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation is a fresh, stunning, and powerful meditation on race in America wrapped in an alternate-history adventure where Confederate and Union soldiers rise from the dead at the end of the Civil War.
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Civil War–era America—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation 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 to 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.
At once provocative, terrifying, and darkly subversive, Dread Nation is Justina Ireland’s stunning vision of an America both foreign and familiar—a country on the brink, at the explosive crossroads where race, humanity, and survival meet.
Dread Nation is the first installment in author Justina Ireland's thought provocative Dread Nation series. Ireland is also the author of Vengeance Bound which was released in 2014. This series could be considered as an alternative historical history due to the fact that it is set against the backdrop of post-Civil War years that was radically changed due to the rise of shamblers. 17-year old Jane McKeene is the story's protagonist. She is a black girl raised in Kentucky during the most trying times in this America's history.
There are some things that I won't discuss, and one of those things is Jane's parentage. I think you would be better off served if you read the book from beginning to end and let the author explain the story via her mother's letters to Jane. Especially since they give clues as to where the author will take this series next. But, I digress. 2 years after Jane was born, the shamblers rose up and changed the course of American history forever. Both sides, the so called Northern Aggressors, and the Confederate armies, ceased fighting and joined forces in attempting to stop shamblers from destroying the country.
This is a world where the South has largely been destroyed by Shamblers, the North hides behind walls, and two political parties have essentially risen up to fill the political void. Although slavery has been abolished, the negro population is still not as accepted as they should be. One could say the same thing about the Indigenous people's as well. In Maryland, there is a place called Miss Preston's School of Combat for Negro Girls where they are taught the art of killing shamblers, while also understanding etiquette and deportment. We wouldn't want someone to use the wrong spoon for soup! Jane is studying to be an Attendant. Attendants keep their charges alive and their virtue uncompromised.
Jane is more often than not able to find herself in trouble even when she is doing things like killing Shamblers in the middle of the night to keep the roads clear for travelers, or protecting an auditorium filled with white upper class from being eaten by a Shambler. Jane is at the top of her class in most areas, but has some issues with others. Happens to the best of us. Jane isn't all that impressed by a group called the Survivalists who claim that they took back Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia from the hoards of shamblers and have been working on ways to cure the Custer strain. Especially when she finds herself sent to a Survivalist Compound Summerland in the middle of nowhere.
If you love a character who is opinionated, who takes crap from nobody, who is brave, and headstrong, and a badass, then you will love Jane. Jane's nemesis is Katherine Deveraux who later becomes a much needed friend and ally when things go sideways and they find themselves up to their ears in trouble. Katherine is a curious sort. She is light of skin which means that she can pass as a white woman. Katherine is a fashion plate who keeps her nose clean which drives Jane crazy. Katherine is also a curious character in that she's not really taken as seriously as Jane. Trust me when I say this, Katherine isn't a Mary Sue. She can fight just as hard and kick as much ass as Jane can.
Dread Nation reads as an action & adventure novel with plenty of surprises along the way. Things are always going on and there is barely enough time to breathe before the author sends Jane and Katherine and a boy named Jackson off on yet another dangerous situation. Don't go into this book thinking the author won't address race and gender in regards to how Jane is treated differently than Katherine. It has to be said. Racism, bigotry, and intolerance is alive and well and living in the good ole USA during this story.