Review: Dread Nation (Dread Nation #1) by Justina Ireland

April 24, 2018
Dread Nation, (Dread Nation #1), Justina Ireland, Book Review, InToriLex
Published By: Balzar + Bray on April 3, 2018
Format Read: Hardcover  Edition (464 pages)
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Horror/ Young Adult
Series: Book One of Dread Nation
Source: Purchased
Dread Nation
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems. 


 Content Warning: Racism, Sexism, Violence, Gore


This alternate history tale involving zombies had  more humor and heart than I could have hoped for. Jane sets out to learn what she can to protect herself from the undead at Ms. Preston's school of combat. She encounters formidable enemies and racist beliefs, but never backs down.  The combat schools in this book were inspired by the Native American Boarding Schools established in the 18th & 19th centuries. These schools forced Native American children from their home where they were forced to remove their cultural identifiers and subject to sexual, physical, and mental abuse in hopes that they would assimilate to Euro-American culture. The Preston combat school is not as abusive but does hope to assimilate the girls to protect and serve the wealthy who can hire them.
"There's nothing white folks hate more than realizing they accidentally treated a Negro like a person."
There are two political parties that vie for control. Survivalists believe the undead are punishment on society for ending slavery, they are hoping to return to that order. Egalitarians believe people should be treated equal and black people should be given their appropriate rights.While Jane was not mistreated at Ms. Preston's school her curious and rebellious nature leads her into trouble where she has to navigate politically driven danger. I was struck by how formidable and clever Jane has to become in order to navigate a society which see's her as an object they can mistreat. The world building was phenomenal, the danger of the undead was taken seriously but Jane's wit made it fun.
"Don't be afraid to be something you aren't, Jane. Sometimes a little subterfuge and chicanery is in order and the quickest way to achieve one's goal."
I appreciated the use of Jane's letter to her Mom and chapter titles that clued you into what was next. The characters were memorable and the small victories they achieved helped to balance out the dire situations they found themselves in. The plot twists were not predictable and the action was well described. There was little romance described and non-heterosexual representation which I appreciated. It's important for young readers to know that sexuality is a spectrum. It's important to know the real history of the harsh lives Native and African American's were subjected to after slavery. This shed light on those issues in a compelling and well written way. I felt there was some back story missing which kept this from being a five star read for me. But it was still great and I cannot wait to continue on with the series.

Recommended for readers who
-enjoy historical young adult fiction
-appreciate diverse representation written by own voice authors
-want to get a lost in a world with bad ass women standing up for themselves


Justina Ireland enjoys dark chocolate, dark humor, and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. She is the author of Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows.

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