Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (Dread Nation, #1)
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: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
LENGTH: 418 pages
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Historical,
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Ace/Aro Secondary Character(s).
Dread Nation is fantastic alternate history; refined, resourceful and kick-ass. The zombies are a backdrop for explorations of racism, colorism, cultural genocide, religious zealotry, and sexism, shot through with a mystery thriller/escape story.
The characters are amazing. Jane is calculatedly blunt and extremely savvy, I hope to get more of Jackson in the sequels. The gradual unveiling of Jane's backstory is satisfying, making me think I know what's happening, repeatedly, then showing just one more thing. Jane makes a lot of snap judgement about people as part of her survival strategy and I appreciate how she isn't always right, but she's close enough often enough to get by and keep going.
This whole book needs cws/tws for racism, sexism, colorism, genocide, murder... It manages to be pretty upbeat overall, but it definitely isn't light reading. YMMV on whether it'll be a relaxing read, but it's very well done.
I like zombie stories, the best ones are more about the people left alive than about the actual undead, and this one lives up to that legacy. It's smart social critique, including extrapolating from the very real existence of schools for carrying out cultural genocide of Native Americans to assume that, given the hypothetical existence of zombies in the late 19th century, America might take the opportunity to try and "reeducate" former slaves and their children in a similar manner.