Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation is an alternate history set in the aftermath of the American Civil War. A civil war which ended in part because of zombies. Sounds like fun!

Well, not quite. Just because the dead aren’t staying dead, that doesn’t mean some form of subjugation and oppression of blacks and Native Americans would go away. It just takes a different form. In this timeline, slavery is abolished, but there are still shamblers to fight. So, former slaves and native peoples are forced into combat schools where they are trained to fight shamblers in order to protect the white population. Our main character, Jane, is a young black girl who has been trained at Miss Preston’s School of Combat to be a shambler fighter. It is supposed to be her greatest hope to be chosen by a white lady from high society to be her “Attendant”.  These “Attendants” are basically body guards for their lady, and are meant to protect them from shamblers. Of course, things go horribly wrong for our heroine, and our adventure begins.

I enjoyed the point of view of Jane, who is not only one of, if not the best fighter at the school, but she is rough around the edges to say the least. She is brash and somewhat unapologetic. Its refreshing to have her as the protagonist rather than being the sidekick.   She is reminiscent of the “charming roguish thief”, that you see in many fantasy series. I liked the characters themselves, but I’m not sure how I feel about the actual plot. I liked it when they were at the school, and when they were able to get out of the school and into the surrounding areas (Baltimore, to be exact), but once the location changes, then I began to lose a bit of the connection I had to the story. I still enjoyed it, but the story was expanding a little too quickly for my taste. I had just gotten into that particular corner of the world, and then I was taken out of it. This is the first book in a series, so if there were going to be other books, I felt more time could’ve been spent in their original location. (I’m being vague because I am avoiding spoilers).

I was also concerned about the timeline. I kept thinking it was closer to the end of the civil war than it was (the story takes place in 1880, the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865). I would read a story about what happened at the Battle of Gettysburg when the dead on both sides began to rise.  Maybe that can be a prequel!

The writing had a sharpness that was appealing, with an economy of words that I think worked well overall. Just enough description, but not too much.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and I encourage others to pick it up. The author also has a list of resources in her “Author’s Note” about the history of industrial schools, and how the United States government sent Native children there to be “civilized”. These schools were the basis for her “combat schools” in the novel.

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