#BookReview: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Young Adult Historical
Sci-Fi/Fantasy Historical

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

Social Media
Official Website

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.

Historical fiction is a literary genre that concerns itself with the events, social conditions, and/or famous figures of the past. Beyond that, however, anything goes. Titles in this genre can range from heavily fact-based narratives to more speculative, alternate, and science fiction/fantasy historicals. I draw attention to these latter categories as, like graphic historicals, I feel these authors don’t get enough credit or representation among the heavyweight organizations who represent the genre as a whole.

Why this happens is beyond me, but I personally think it a travesty as some of the most creative minds in historical fiction are working on less traditional platforms. Case in point, Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation.

Young readers like dystopian lit and you’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the zombie craze, but Ireland takes it a step farther by layering these trends with complex comments on race in America both past and present. I don’t know if younger readers pull the same parallels from the narrative that I did, but I felt the end result intensely creative and appreciate how the author used the policies and prejudices of the day to shape the world her characters inhabit.

Though it does not factor in my rating, I will note being confused by the Author’s Note. I recognize and respect the themes Ireland chose to focus on, but the Author’s Note is dedicated to illustrating the injustice of institutions like the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and its policy of forced assimilation. Ireland lists four titles on the subject for those interested in learning more but closes without discussion of additional themes or content. All things considered, this felt odd as the Indigenous Children (Native Americans) are represented by a single character who is regulated to a very minor role.

The pacing suffers a little in the second half of the narrative and I think the antagonists underdeveloped. I also think the plot could have been fined tuned, but at the end of the day, I found Dread Nation relevant and entertaining.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: July 20, 2018

So don't let nobody tell you any different about the old days. Life is hard now, nothing but suffering, but some kinds of suffering is easier to bear than others.