By Justina Ireland
Balzar + Bray 2018 – 451 Pages – Genre: Fantasy fiction; Alternate History fiction
Review by PWBHS librarian, Shelley Dorrill
“The day I came squealing and squalling into the world was the first time someone tried to kill me. I guess it should have been obvious to everyone right then that I wasn’t going to have a normal life.” – Jane McKeene
African-American hunters of zombies in the Civil War era? You had me at zombies. In the action-packed Dread Nation, the first in a series by Justina Ireland, we are introduced to Jane McKeene, a young biracial African-American woman, who is born at the beginning of the American Civil War. However, when the dead on the battlefield begin to walk the earth again as zombies, slavery comes to an end and a new world is created in this alternate American history tale. To create a force to fight the undead shamblers, the government passes the Native and Negro Reeducation Act. This act forces black and Native American children to attend zombie combat school to become Attendants, bodyguards to wealthy, white families. Jane goes to a distinguished combat school in Baltimore where she learns zombie-killing sickle skills and befriends Katherine, a stunning, light-skinned classmate. When her education is almost complete, she and Katherine are taken away to serve as border patrol at a dangerous frontier outpost, Summerland. Led by a racist father and son, Summerland is a horrible place for Jane until she convinces everyone that light-skin, blue-eyed, golden-haired Katherine is white, and that she is Katharine’s Attendant. With Katherine now on the inside, she and Jane discover frightening and dangerous truths.
If you are looking for a book that can be enjoyed as an action-filled, adventurous, zombie-packed thriller, this is a book for you. However, you can also enjoy Dread Nation for the socio-political and historical racial struggles played out in an alternative (and yes, zombified) American landscape. Additionally, while treachery, racism, and evil are battled by Jane and Katherine, the friendship between the two female protagonists is relatable and both women are strong, courageous, and intelligent. If you like horror, fantasy, adventure, or historical fiction, this book is for you! Justina Ireland has written an amazing tale in this novel and one we are thrilled to see continue in her upcoming sequel.
Available through SORA as an e-book.