Dread Nation (Dread Nation #1), by Justina Ireland
Publish Date: April 3, 2018
Published by: Balzer + Bray
Genre: YA Fantasy/Historical Fiction
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)
**I received an egalley of this from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**
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.
This is one of those books that hooks you from the start and holds on tight throughout the story. I almost skipped reading it because I was falling behind on the egalleys I needed to read, but I am so glad I read the prologue “just to see how it was.” The writing was so immediately engrossing and spectacular that I knew I needed to continue. Justina Ireland has a voice that is distinct and radiant, and has created a unique story that is both thrilling and eye-opening.
From the prologue to the end, Jane’s narrative voice is so wonderful that I could not put this book down. There is so much intrigue and action that there is always something to keep you going – whether it is answers to questions or seeing what is going to happen in this or that shambler attack. Of course, considering the time period of the setting, there are also some aspects of the story that leave a sour taste in the mouth but are important to understand, and are of course important to the plot and characters. Ireland did a great job of depicting the horridness of racists who existed then, and unfortunately still exist today, in a way that really made apparent the terrible things black people, Native Americans, and other minorities had to endure during this time period. Everything about the plot was tense and captivating, keeping me on the edge of my seat for most of it.
Jane is a highly engaging protagonist, easily one of my favorite characters. She is smart, witty, quick, and full of so much strength. As I said her narrative voice is radiant, and reading the events through her eyes is thrilling. In contrast to her there is Katherine, who starts off seemingly annoying, but as Jane gets to know her better, she easily became another character I enjoyed greatly. I loved how their friendship grew over the course of the novel, and how they each grew individually because of knowing each other. The rest of the characters were just as vivacious and full of depth as Jane and Katherine, reallly making this story shine (despite all the gore from killing the undead).
I really enjoyed reading this novel. It was such a unique take on the zombie apocalypse set in the post-Civil War era, that was both exhilarating and eye-opening to read. The characters are distinct and full of life, the writing is spectacular, and the overall plot full of action and mystery. A definite recommendation for all.