My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dread Nation is a historical fiction novel – featuring zombies. Yes, zombies were quite popular about a decade ago and got pretty played out, but now they’re back and I’m not bored by them. Ireland brought them into the story in a unique way and made me curious about how they came to be. They were not the focus of the story, so she let the characters and plot shine first then the creepy undead shamble along behind.
Our main character was born to the lady of a plantation, but she was brought up loved and educated. She is a strong, learned woman of colour – even if she is not treated that way by the people of the time. Despite the fact that this is historical fiction, it’s so poignant in our current climate and should make readers think. It has a brilliant way of approaching race relations and generally just how to treat others without being preachy or too on the nose. You start to think about things in the context of the story before you even realize what an impact the book has had on you in the real world. I thought it was the most important aspect of the book.
Once the dead rose up after the battle of Gettysburg – post Civil War life changed dramatically. After a number of years unsuccessfully beating back the undead hordes – the government decided to create the “Native and Negro Reeducation Act” which would train both parties to hunt and kill the undead. Our main character Jane is sent to one of those schools, although hers is also training her to be a lady’s attendant. There she learns to curtsy and shoot a rifle, how to properly lace a corset and fire a crossbow, and must balance the violence with the persona of a lady that she must put on if she ever wishes to be hired.
While Jane loves being capable, shooting guns and swinging swords, all she really wants is to go back home to her mom and aunt in Kentucky. Unfortunately, life does not play out that way for her and Jane is forced to battle with many more unseen and unseemly foes than she ever could have expected. I enjoyed the interactions between Katherine and Jane, although I wish each of the main and supporting characters would have been developed a little more. At times, I felt that their desires and motivations were a little flat.
Although the book felt like a standalone the entire time I was reading it – by the end of the story new bits of information had been woven into the narrative and made me wonder what was going to happen in the next book. I really enjoyed the book, but more strongly for the message that it had than the plot or characters themselves (even though I liked them as well).