DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland,
Titan books, paperback edition, £7.99
Reviewed by Shona Kinsella
I’ll start by saying that I don’t normally go in for zombie stories. It’s just a creature that’s never done much for me. I even gave up on The Walking Dead before the end of the first season despite the fact that it was a well put together show. So, with that in mind, I wasn’t particularly interested in Dread Nation when I first heard about it, but I kept hearing people talking about how great it was, so I eventually decided to put my reservations aside and give it a try. I’m really glad that I did.
Jane McKeene was born on a planation in the American South in the 1800s, not long after the civil war – which ended with the defeat of both armies when the dead began to rise on the battlefield and attack their former allies. Jane is dark skinned, born to the white wife of the plantation owner, causing no shortage of scandal. As she entered young adulthood, she was removed from her mother and the plantation, being taken by law to a school where negro women learn how to fight the undead and become protectors for wealthy families. Jane is a strong-willed, formidable young woman, and she dreams of returning home to be with her family. She’s sassy and frequently the smartest person in the room.
Jane is supported by a good secondary cast – Katherine, a light-skinned black girl who can ‘pass’ for white, is Jane’s enemy in everything at Miss Preston’s school but as the world around them becomes more threatening, they develop an unlikely friendship. Jackson is a good looking trouble-maker who needs help and pulls Jane and Katherine into a dangerous situation.
The one thing I felt the story lacked was a compelling villain – they were all a little too alike, all middle class, middle aged white men who were deeply racist. It would have been nice to see a deeper purpose to their actions, or even a little variety. A villainous woman or two, maybe a conspirator of colour … these would have added depth to antagonists and could have been used to drive tension.
The world-building was a little on the simple side, but then the book was written for younger readers, and within the conventions of books aimed at that age group.
The story was well-paced with thrilling fight scenes interspersed with Jane sneaking around and trying to find out what’s really going on behind the scenes. Jane grows over the course of the novel, developing a greater maturity by beginning to think of other and the wider consequences of all that has happened to her. I’m really looking forward to reading more of Jane’s adventures in the future.