Next up: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Appears to be the first in a series
Set in an alternate universe where the American Civil War was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a zombie plague, “Dread Nation” follows the story of a young African American woman: Jane McKeene. Thanks to the ‘Native and Negro Reeducation Act’, Jane is a student at Miss Preston’s School of Combat, learning to put down the undead. While skilled at using blades and possessing a sharp mind for tactics, Jane is hardly excited about the prospect of life as an Attendant, a glorified bodyguard for rich white women. In fact, what Jane really wants is simply to return home to her momma and aunties at Rose Hill.
Unfortunately, fate has something else in mind for Jane. Along with her former beau and a not-so-friendly classmate, Jane accidentally stumbles upon a conspiracy that has all three teenagers heading West and into great danger… from both the undead and living.
I really enjoyed Jane. She was smart and had her head on straight, and it was fantastic to follow a character so practical. I’ve been frustrated and put-off by a lot of the YA books I’ve tried to read recently, because their protagonists were being absurdly irrational to the point of being unbelievable as characters. “Dread Nation” didn’t feel like YA, actually. I actually had a lot of the same feelings reading it as I did reading “A Handmaid’s Tale”. It was infuriating in terms of content, with people being (excuse my language) fucking idiots and assholes of the highest caliber, but a really good commentary on how humans treat each other. To me, this greater focus on that social commentary made it feel more mature than a lot of YA, where the biggest focus is too often on the obligatory YA love-triangle, and everything else is background. There were hints of romance in “Dread Nation” but they were not given much spotlight (they’ll probably become more important in later books, though). Jane had more important things to worry about. (Though it was interesting the matter-of-fact conversation a couple characters had about their sexualities; one’s asexual and the other’s bi and a big fuss wasn’t made over either)
When I started the book, I didn’t know that it wasn’t stand-alone, so I was expecting more to do with the Native American side of things. I was a little disappointed when there wasn’t really anything involving them, just some oblique mentions. I expect Ireland will bring that in more in the sequel(s) though.
Overall, “Dread Nation” was a really good read, though rage-inducing sometimes with the stupid racist bullshit some of the characters spew. It was intensely satisfying whenever one of those assholes got their throat ripped out, I have to say.
Doesn’t shy away from the disgusting way humans treat other humans for race or religion. Lots of slurs and abuse.