Dread Nation (Dread Nation #1) by Justina Ireland (2018)
YA Fiction | Historical | Paranormal | Horror
“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.”
pooled ink Review:
Okay…so this is a tough one to review particularly because our culture is SO sensitive about everything right now (some of this is a good thing and some is honestly counter-productive…but that’s not what I’m here to talk about lol).
This was a good book. Action-packed, totally unique, sassy main character, and it all comes together to produce a pretty entertaining story. And if you look up reviews you’ll find that most people agree. I’m also really happy that it’s a book supporting minorities. That’s pretty cool. But also…*takes deep terrified breath* it feels as if it was published just because it fit the minority trend going on currently. Okay now I have to explain myself before you blacklist me lol. What I mean is that it could’ve used a bit more work and most of the hype is based purely on the fact that it is a minority-supporting YA story. I’m all about representation but I expect quality. Not that this book was terrible, I just said it was a good book, but I think it could’ve used a bit more work to tighten things up.
- Part one was much more interesting than part two in my opinion. (The plot’s broad strokes were all intriguing but the execution felt imbalanced.)
- Although it portrayed a good illusion of depth, depth is what it lacked. The story was a series of events but it never really went deeper than that for world-building, character arcs, thematic expression, etc. Stuff just happened and that’s that. Oh, and some info dumping.
- The characters were a mix of well-developed and one-dimensional. (Some I could easily picture and hear while others felt like total plot devices rather than real substantial characters.)
- The voice (told in first person) would flip anywhere between 1800s and 21st Century lingo and lines of thinking which felt inconsistent and would take me out of the story.
- The racism theme wasn’t handled as well as I think it could’ve/should’ve been. (While it takes a strong stance on supporting black people – especially black women – it falters when addressing other minorities such as Asians and Native Americans (there was a Twitter debacle I found out about after I’d started this book where the author doesn’t identify Asians as POC (people of color/minorities) which is complete bullsh*t and really disappointed me in the author. In fact at times even the way black characters were described felt colorist which was weird. Not only that but this book’s stance/agenda often lifts itself up by putting white people down and that is never the right way to handle such a topic. Ever.)
Look, this book is totally imaginative, ambitious, and entertaining. The concept is a knockout and if I were a publisher I would be jumping all over this to buy it. And I’m so happy that it’s trying to aid the movement to more diverse reads available to young adults. I just had a few issues with it (most of which could’ve been fixed if they’d taken the time to point out and edit them) and even beyond those I don’t think this was quite my cup of tea. I’m a total history lover but zombies are not my thing plus I really hate impulsive characters and Jane, the main character whose POV this book is told from, is very impulsive which predictably gets her in plenty of trouble. I wasn’t able to connect with her and unfortunately if I don’t quickly connect with the MC then it’s a tough uphill battle to win me over.
Dread Nation is an epic concept that fits a goldmine niche in YA. Thrilling, attacking, sassy, fierce, and raising its fists in support of WOC (women of color) it is no wonder it’s a hit for so many readers. Ultimately it wasn’t my cup of tea, although it was a quick and easy read, and I had some issues with how some of the themes were handled so I won’t be continuing the series but I still encourage you to check it out and perhaps decide if it’s the right book for you.
Purchase Here: Dread Nation
Meet Justina Ireland!
Justina Ireland enjoys dark chocolate, dark humor, and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark.
She is the former co-editor in chief of FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, for which she won a World Fantasy Award. She holds a BA from Armstrong Atlantic University and an MFA from Hamline University.