Book review: Dread Nation | Justina Ireland

‘Dread Nation’ is the feminist racial-treatise post-Civil War zombie action story you’ve been missing your whole life. Just take a look at the cover. The contents are even better.

Seventeen years ago, on the Civil War battlefields, the dead rose again with a thirst for living flesh. The sides united to fight a new common enemy.

Teenager Jane McKeene doesn’t know if her mother is dead or alive. Nearly two years ago, Jane was taken from Rose Hill, the estate owned by her well-to-do white mother, and required to train with other young black women at Miss Preston’s School of Combat due to the Native and Negro Education Act. Janes days are spent learning etiquette and how to slash a sickle, so she might be selected to protect an elite white family instead of fight shamblers—zombies—on the front line.

But something stranger than zombies is going on. Her untrustworthy ex-flame, Red Jack, begs for her help to find his missing sister and then a whole family goes missing with no sign of shambler-attack. Now Katherine, a beautiful ‘white-passing’ co-student, is sticking in her nose and causing greater complications, when Jane has a knack for finding trouble all by herself. Turns out shamblers are not the only enemy Jane has to fight.

This book is packed with everything without feeling weighty: it’s absorbing, smart, witty, and tense. Every bit of social commentary—like the overly optimistic use of a wall to keep out the unwanted (sound familiar?)—is seamless, relevant, and sharp. The story is stealthily progressive in other ways as well: there is a bisexual character, an asexual and aromantic character, and a disabled love interest. As for other representations, not being indigenous or African American, my review can only stretch so far.

What I do know is that all other zombie tales are (properly) dead to me now: I need them to be as astute and riveting as this one. Book two is scheduled for publication in 2020.

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