Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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.

I love Jane’s character. She’s tough, defiant, and street smart. It’s easy to only see her bad-assery and miss the fact that she’s a very loving character as well, I’m not sure if I’d write my mother letters for a year even though I never got a response. She’s also an intellectual, she seeks out the written word even though it’s forbidden to her. And while this isn’t necessarily something that we should celebrate, Jane is uncertain of herself and her looks. It can be hard as a dark skinned girl with kinky hair to not feel “less than” when you’re standing next to a country’s “preferred” or traditional form of beauty, tanned skin (whatever that actually means) and loose ringlets, particularly during the time period of this book (although I'm not entirely sure when that is). I’m not sure if this is me, pushing my feelings on the character of Jane, or if this is what Ireland was aiming for, but Jane seems to really like herself 100%, but there’s that little thing in the back of her head that pops out every time she’s around Katherine that makes her feel less than for just a moment. It’s great to see a character that’s tough but also a flawed, real person.
I like the subtle elements of fantasy buried in this Historical Fiction tale. We have the obvious zombies, fantasy all the way, but the penny that only turned ice cold if there was danger nearby was slight but appreciated, and I couldn’t quite visualize those carriages but they sounded cool.
This book is suppose to be a type of alternate history. Slavery “ended” the same way it did in the history books, but these black people were then sent off to work, in a manner that was similar to that of indentured servitude, as zombie slayers. Ireland does NOT shy away from what slavery was and the way black people were treated both in real history and in her rendition, everything from passing, to dumbing yourself down, to the hanging tree. Ireland is amazing.  

“The sheriff has taken every opportunity to insult us and remind us of the circumstances of our dark skin and I’d like nothing more than to tell him what I think.”... “I know I am more than my skin color.” I love this quote so freaking much. I want to make a shirt that says I am more than my skin color. Does it already exist?? I will make one!!

This book was amazing. Please read it. 

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