by Justina Ireland
Released: April 3rd 2018
Series: Dread Nation #1
“Jane’s POV is truly a wonder of taking some dark and concepts and weaving in such wide eyed pragmatism and humour that it some how…lightens it?”
~ Under the Covers
Let me set the scene: it’s a few decade after the American civil war a war that was effectively ended by the emergence of zombies. The world has now settled into an uneasy co-existence with the zombie plague. Slaves have been emancipated. Kind of. Instead of working fields, Black and Native American boys and girls are sent to combat schools to be the front line against the zombie attacks. Jane McKeene has almost graduated Miss Preston’s School of Combat when she finds herself entangled in a conspiracy which brings into sharp relief what she already knows; zombies may be an undead scourge…but it’s humans who are the real monsters.
I love a zombie, whether it’s in a film, video game or book, it always peaks my interest. So, when I read the blurb for Dread Nation it was inevitable I as going to pick it up. For me the truly memorable zombie stories are the one that delve in to the nature of humankind. The zombies are just the catalyst, the pressure point that grinds away at the veneer and reveals the true face of both individuals and humanity as a whole. Dread Nation was of those books. The zombies were a contributing force in the story rather the main thrust.
The book focuses on Jane and is told from her POV. First person can be a blessing or a curse, and is rarely anything in between. We are in the characters head for the whole story; you have got to like them. I really enjoyed Jane’s practical no-nonsense outlook. Her tendency to remove all the BS and her wit often nailed the issues on the head with dark humorous insight. It made the bleakness of the world that Jane inhabits more palatable. Of course, Jane is a self confessed and notorious liar, so she was also an unreliable narrator. But, we are presented with Jane, flaws in all, her bravery, her cruelty, her judgements, her impulsiveness, her loyalty and it is impossible not to be charmed by her.
As well as Jane we have a number of interesting secondary characters, with the most memorable being Katherine, a girl in the combat school with Jane. Jane and Katherine’s frenemy relationship, which morphs and evolves through the book is one of the central things that kept me hooked to the page. And, Katherine herself is a very interesting characters, she is a light skinned Black woman who can “pass” as white, a point that is important in the story and elicits complicated feelings in both Jane and Katherine; my heart broke for both of them. I can’t wait to see in the next book how Katherine as a character evolves and how her relationship with Jane will change as well.
This book also has some great representation, the heroines – Katherine and Jane – are both Black and Jane is also bisexual. I will give a mild content warning, although this book in general isn’t a particularity dark read, it can be bleak and does show, though not explicitly, some blatant and cruel scenes of violence racism. I know it sounds, strange…it’s not dark but it shows such terrible things. But Jane’s POV is truly a wonder of taking some dark and concepts and weaving in such wide eyed pragmatism and humour that it some how…lightens it?
I haven’t even gotten to everything I like about this book…like the letters at the beginning of each chapter from Jane to her mother which foreshadow events. Or, how fast paced and interesting the conspiracy story was. Or, the amazing pieces of history that Ireland weaves into the story that give it a real authentic feel for the time. This was a very engaging read that I recommend everyone who is looking for something exciting to pick up and give a try.
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