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.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2 out of 5

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Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

I think I heard about this book through io9’s monthly article about books they are anticipating. I’ll leave the link here. They have a really good list. I’m also interested in Dread Nation and Night Dahlia.

Ash Princess is about a princess, Thora/Theodosia, of the conquered nation of Astrea, who is held hostage by her nation’s conquerors, the Kalovaxians.  Thora is used as a tool to keep the Astreans in line. Step out of line, and the princess is beaten. She is the princess of ashes only, and is treated at times like an honored guest, and at other times like a criminal. Of course, rebellion is in the air, and Thora soon becomes involved in a plot to overthrow the Kalovaxians and take back her kingdom.

As I was reading along, I thought this was a stand alone novel. The plot moved along at a very brisk pace, with just enough information about the characters, culture and circumstances to advance the plot. There were breaks in the story for exposition about the use of gems in the Astrean religion, a little bit of background on the Kalovaxians, and the destruction they have wreaked not only on Astrea, but other nations in this world. But it all seemed pretty surface, no real depth. Which I expect when a story is a stand alone. More emphasis on plot and less on character development. This isn’t a criticism, it was just the impression I got while reading. As we get nearer to the end, it becomes obvious that this won’t get resolved by the end of the book. And I find that I don’t mind that. I am actually curious about what will happen next. I like a good story about the oppressed rising up against the oppressors!

That would be the main criticism I had. I wished that this felt like a first book in a series, rather than a stand alone novel. This may be my own fault for not researching more on this book, but I would like to have seen more world building. The Kalovaxians have a history of concurring and pillaging other countries, so I would like to know more about that. This will probably (hopefully) happen in the next book (or books), but more world building now would have made the story a bit richer, for me.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This book showed up on several lists of anticipated books of 2018. I added it to my own list because I was in the mood for a Young Adult (YA) story. This is not a dystopian YA story, which is a good thing.

This is the story of a country in what appears to be an African-like continent, where magic has been eradicated (or has it??), and the people who used magic were almost wiped out. Their descendants are an oppressed people who are shunned, ostracized and brutalized by the current regime. They are often used as servants/slaves to the upper classes, including the royal family. This purging of magic took place about 11 years ago. Of course, our young heroine, Zelie, is descended from magic users, and the story focuses on her discovering her destiny to bring magic back.

You can definitely pick out the epic fantasy influences. There’s the hero’s journey, where Zelie denies her destiny, then accepts it. There’s the loss of the wise mentor. There is also the formation of the rag tag group of heroes who will help her on her journey. There are tales of gods, wars, magical objects, and of course romance. There are references to places with similar names to ours (Britaunis, Porltoganes, etc.) This is definitely the same way in which more traditional fantasy infuses medieval English or French cultural influences into the world building.  There is also the use of the Yoruba language that lends even more grounding in cultures here on our own earth.

What this story does so well, is dramatizing a real underlying sense of fear, hate and oppression. There is a heavy sense throughout the book of the depths of hate and intolerance and the lengths people will go to in order to oppress those who are different. The hate and animosity runs deep, and some characters are overcome by it, while others clearly struggle to rationalize what has been done to the magic users, all in the name of  protecting the people. The Author’s Note at the end of the book gives more insight into how this story reflects modern day issues.

I have a few nitpicks, but the one I will mention here is the setting, or timing of the current story.  I would’ve liked this story to take place maybe another generation or two from the eradication of magic. Seeing how wounded this society would be after so many years, would make the stakes a bit higher. How would the descendants of the magic users feel? Would they have sided with their oppressors and believed that magic was bad? Would they mostly be in hiding? Everything seemed so new and raw. I would like to have seen the toll this event has taken on the society, another generation or two later.

Overall, this is a very engaging story, with characters you can root for. There is so much more to this story, so I am looking forward to part two!

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2