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Dread Nation by Justina Ireland #BookReview

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

Title: Dread Nation | Author: Justina Ireland | Publisher: Titan Books | Pub. Date: 1 February 2019 | Pages: 464 | ISBN: 9781789090871 | Genre: Horror| Language: English | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Self purchased

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Dread Nation Review

Alternative history with zombies, a kick ass heroine and healthy dose of social commentary made ‘Dread Nation’ a big hit for me. It’s a winning combination that results in a pacey, thought-provoking, entertaining novel.

Justina Ireland sets things up with an intriguing and immediately appealing premise. The American Civil War ends with the dead rising from the battlefields as undead monsters – flesh-eaters called Shamblers who infect anyone they bite in classic zombie fashion. By the time the book starts, the worst of the outbreak is over and some sort of normality has returned. This being the USA in the 19th century, that normality involves African Americans being exploited for the convenience of whites. Black children trained in combat schools so that they can protect white townships from the roaming undead. One such black child is Jane McKeene, the heroine of the book.

Jane is plucky, funny, great at killing zombies (particularly with the two small scythes she favours) and very likeable. Her character is a pretty typical one for this kind of YA novel, but that doesn’t mean she’s not fun to read. More impressive (and just as enjoyable) is the world that Justina Ireland has created here. Shamblers eat horses, and this has accelerated the development of motorised vehicles, with clunky steam-powered cars used in place of four-legged transportation. There’s extreme racial science too, with one doctor suggesting that the zombies are less likely to attack blacks than whites (a theory that is quickly proved wrong).

Into this world, Justina Ireland throws a solid, if not inspirational, plot peppered with some fantastic action set pieces. When the book kicks into gear it’s vividly exciting with moments of real peril. This being a YA novel, the gore isn’t over the top, but it is meaty enough that I never felt short-changed. Along with the thrills, there’s a bit of romance, satisfying coming of age themes, humour, and some decent twists. Ireland examines race and gender as well and while the book is never that deep, it has enough brains and heart to feel meaningful.

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads (Buying direct from retailers is a good way to support indie authors); however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Published inHorror Book ReviewsStarred Reviews
©Sci-Fi & Scary 2019
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