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New York Times bestseller; 6 starred reviews!
At once provocative, terrifying, and darkly subversive, Dread Nation is Justina Ireland's stunning vision of an America both foreign and familiar—a country on the brink, at the explosive crossroads where race, humanity, and survival meet.
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.
In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education 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.
"Abundant action, thoughtful worldbuilding, and a brave, smart, and skillfully drawn cast entertain as Ireland illustrates the ignorance and immorality of racial discrimination and examines the relationship between equality and freedom." (Publishers Weekly, "An Anti-Racist Children's and YA Reading List")
From School Library Journal
“Ireland delivers a necessary, subversive, and explosive novel with her fantasy-laced alternate history that does the all-important work of exploring topics of oppression, racism, and slavery while simultaneously accomplishing so much more. Brilliant and gut-wrenching.” -- Booklist (starred review)
“Abundant action, thoughtful worldbuilding, and a brave, smart, and skillfully drawn cast entertain as Ireland (Promise of Shadows) illustrates the ignorance and immorality of racial discrimination and examines the relationship between equality and freedom. Mounting peril creates a pulse-pounding pace, hurtling readers toward a nail-biting conclusion.” -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Will catch readers off-guard with its blend of genres: it starts out as an historical thriller but then tosses in hard hits of mystery, dystopian reimagining, romance, and humor. Jane’s voice reads familiar to more contemporary considerations of Black girlhood, with elements such as beauty standards, colorism, and friendships.” -- Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)
“This absorbing page-turner works on multiple levels: as unflinching alternate history set in post-Reconstruction-era Maryland and Kansas; as a refreshingly subversive action story starring a badass heroine; as zombie fiction suspenseful; and as a compelling exhortation to scrutinize the racist underpinnings of contemporary American sociopolitical systems.” -- Horn Book (starred review)
“Ireland skillfully works in the different forms of enslavement, mental and physical, into a complex and engaging story. A perfect blend of horrors real and imagined, perfect for fans of The Walking Dead.” -- School Library Journal (starred review)
“Tremendously original, subversive, sharp, and all around badass, Dread Nation is not your mother’s Civil War–era zombie story.” -- Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of Dumplin’
“Dread Nation is everything I love—it’s beautiful, unflinching, lyrical, tender, and vividly imagined. Don’t miss this book!” -- Ann Aguirre, New York Times bestseller and coauthor of Honor Among Thieves
“This is the zombie novel I’ve been waiting for my whole life.” -- Kate Elliott, New York Times bestselling author of Court of Fives --This text refers to the hardcover edition.
- ASIN : B071RQX7W9
- Publisher : Balzer + Bray (April 3, 2018)
- Publication date : April 3, 2018
- Language : English
- File size : 2406 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Not Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 418 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #129,774 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on August 16, 2022
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Top reviews from the United States
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I mean, post-Civil War era zombie-fighting girls does kind of sound right up my alley, but still, I had no idea what a blast this book would be.
Starting out, can I just say what a creative and unique concept this is? I have no idea how Justina Ireland came up with this idea and I’m amazed that she pulled it off so flawlessly. It’s this kind of originality that makes a book truly stand out.
Even though I started this book during my (very stressful) first week of the semester, I did not want to put it down at all, and even when I was doing other things that I was supposed to be doing, at least a portion of my mind was still in this book. It stuck with me from start to finish, and I’m still thinking about it over a week later and I want to tell everyone to go read it. So, yeah, go do that.
The star of this story is Jane McKeene, a young mixed race woman training to become an Attendant and fight off “shamblers” for her wealthy employers, even as she misses her faraway home and wonders why her white mother won’t respond to any of her letters. I loved having Jane for a narrator – basically everything she did made me figuratively jump out of my seat and cheer. Not only was she clever and formidable with a weapon, but she took no nonsense from the people around her and tried to make the best of whatever horrible situation she was in. Though she could be a bit hotheaded and judgmental of others, I feel like she learned and grew so much over the course of the novel. Plus, she was the queen of snark. Seriously, Jane is one of my new favorite fictional female leads. I adore her.
Some other major characters that come into play Jackson, or “Red Jack,” Jane’s, ahem, acquaintance who’s never up to any good. As well as Katherine, one of Jane’s least favorite girls at Miss Preston’s School, who’s always been treated differently than the other girls because she can pass as white.
I really appreciated the fact that, although we never actually meet Jane’s mother in the course of the story, we get a strong sense of who she is, as well as Jane’s relationship and feelings toward her, simply through Jane’s memories of her. That’s a difficult way to portray a character, especially one with such a complicated relationship with the narrator, yet it’s done so well in this book.
For most of this story, I hadn’t the faintest clue what was going to happen next. This plot was in no way formulaic or predictable and I was kept guessing the entire time. During the action scenes (of which there were plenty!) I was right on the edge of my seat because I had the sense that anything could happen and everything could change at a moment’s notice. And now I really, really need the next book to come out soon because this story is perfect and I want more of it.
One of my biggest pet peeves in books that take place in different time periods is when characters talk like they’re from the 21st century. And this book avoided that perfectly. Jane and the other characters talked exactly how I would imagine people in the American South during the late 1800s would talk, while still feeling accessible and entertaining and even funny to today’s audience. It seemed authentic and really helped to transport me into that setting. Jane’s voice, both in her narration and her dialogue, was so distinct and fun to read.
While this was an incredibly fun book about girls killing zombies, it was also a book about race in the 1880s, and it did not shy away from those aspects. We get a very strong sense of what it was like to be a woman of color in that time period (which also had some things to say about being a woman of color in today’s world). Jane’s powerlessness because of her race and gender was complicated by the fact that she’s been trained to fight and defend herself, yet even that is used to take power away from her because she’s not given a choice in the matter. The way that the world is built is fascinating and so well done.
So basically, I loved every second of this book. If you haven’t gotten around to picking it up, I highly recommend that you rectify that as soon as possible, because you’re missing out. Jane’s story is heart-poundingly exhilarating and nonstop entertaining, and I’m so happy that it’s not over yet. The only downside is that I have to wait so long for the next book.
The life of an Attendant is most certainly a grueling task and Jane is a young woman who plies her craft well for her utmost survival. What made me love the main character so much is how flawed of a woman she is as we witness her moments of hubris, vulnerability, jealousy, and other traits intermixed with her heroism. Jane is a black woman who is careful of the optics which surround her and most certainly knows how to pull the "okey doke" in the realm of white supremacy. She deceptively tones down her keen intellect, her brassy attitude, and her deadly potential to put the minds of her oppressors at ease when she is far beyond the boundaries that they ignorantly believe her kind to be capable of. It's a tiresome and frustrating tactic having to conceal one's true potential, but its one that keeps her safe and her enemies for the most part unguarded.
Miss "Rich White Woman", Miss Katherine Deveraux was a standout. Like Jane she's also an Attendant, but unlike Jane she possesses a special trait that eludes Jane which is her proximity to whiteness. With her light skin, softened and loose hair texture, and her eurocentric features, she is seamlessly able to navigate the surroundings of her oppressors with ease. She, like Jane is a strong woman worthy of a true Attendant who rises above her peers. She also makes one fine Nemesis as their personalities differ like night and day. She carries the makings of a exquisite woman, with the personality to match. Beyond her fair complexion, she possesses has a Je ne sais quoi about her that has men falling over themselves, and leaves Jane mad with envy and insecure about herself. I empathize with Jane for her feelings of jealousy. You cannot help but feel the way she does when you have the entire world saying you're undesirable for who you are. Even by today's standards, Its the fair and light being placed to the forefront. Admittedly, I hated people like Katherine growing up. The light, bright, damn near white, ones who think by just the way that they look, they are somehow better when at the end of the day, you will never truly be one of them. Katherine however had proven to be furthest thing from that. As someone consciously aware of her privileges, She used her natural traits and her upscale "boujee" behaviour as a means to ensure survival for herself AND for Jane. She had absolutely no time for the affluent, privileged, and downright racist community that she was forced to become a part of, and with each passing day could read that it ate away at her. I grew to adore Katherine just as much as Jane. The dynamics between the two were so organic and despite their differences, these young ladies had more in common than they were willing to admit.
There were times where I had to put the book down because I felt a deep seated feeling of anger at the treatment Jane was forced to go through. The obstacles she faced for being who she was took me back to some of the unfair experiences I faced as a black kid growing up. With the times, the ugliness of racism truly never dies. It simply evolves into something more concealable, not so blatant, yet equally as painful. Even in the face of what seems to be the end of days, they STILL must find a way to be on top! It was frustrating to read, but it strengthened my connection to Jane. As Wise Lady Whitley Gilbert would say, "I know this woman." I see elements of Jane in the mother who raised me, the older sister who protected me, and the "down for anything" bulldagger cousin who jumped in to take over a fist fight I was losing. I had to pace myself not to get through with this story to quickly because I sincerely did not want it to end. Its been so long since I've read something that I could Identify with. Finding stories with strong and BELIEVABLE people of color who arent side cast as the sassy, matronly, stereotypical, non believable, and ultimately forgotten types are genuinely hard to find. I was truly blessed to have both Children of Blood and Bone and Dread Nation at the same damn time, in the same damn year. Bless you Justina! I was truly honored.
Top reviews from other countries
I really enjoyed this book and fell in love with Jane's voice right from word one. It starts with the protagonist telling us how the midwife tried to murder her on her first day of life and from there the narrative just keeps ramping up the pace. We're quickly introduced to the other main characters and given a brief but informative history of the years since Gettysburg alongside some well-paced action sequences, before gradually being drawn into a mystery surrounding the sudden and unexplainable disappearance of a local farming family. Suffice to say it isn't long before Jane, her co-student Katherine (don't call her Kate), and one-time beau, Red Jack, find themselves stumbling headfirst into a mite more trouble than they expected.
While it is possible to read this book as nothing more than a popcorn-fuelled historical fantasy zombiefest, I really do believe doing so would be an injustice. Justina Ireland paints a vivid, almost shockingly sober account of what life was like for people of colour, and especially women of colour, during the post-bellum years in the States. Take away the zombies and the combat training, and Jane could just as easily be any young woman of colour from that period, and her experiences wouldn't have been all that different. I couldn't help but draw comparisons between this and Octavia E. Butler's Kindred, and while the approach taken by each book may be very different the end result is still a harsh indictment of the way most white people treated anyone who wasn't white.
This is a book that will, if you let it, make you think quite deeply about what's going on in the background. It's superbly written, and the character of Jane is one who will stay with you long after you've turned the final page. I'm giving it a solid four stars and waiting eagerly for the next book in the series.
This was actually a really interesting and unique read and although i've only rated it three stars, which seems low, I did enjoy this book overall. There were just some issues in it for me that made me feel unable to rate it five stars.
This is a very character driven book; it almost feels like a filler book because it is so centered on the characters and barely the plot. There's almost no tension in this book and virtually no action; yes there are a couple of bits of them fighting the hordes but other than that it's almost a period drama. I did enjoy it, but it felt largely unnecessary at times. The plot is interesting, but not really developed on throughout the book which makes this feel very much like it was intended to be a middle book but somehow got shunted to the front.
This book has some really good representation; LQBTQ with Jane being bisexual (I think - it's never explicitly stated buy she mentions relationships with males and females) and Katherine being asexual (again not stated but she discuses having no sexual attraction to anyone). Although it is mostly about zombies, it's a really important historical read and I would highly recommend it. There are also some real discussions about feminism and typical femininity with Katherine; the MC Jane and Katherine are both extremely different women and are probably polar opposites for the main part. They don't just get over things but actually work through their differences and issues as they arise. This doesn't mean that they don't still have their issues, because they definitely do and it is delightful to watch.
Overall I liked this read and will be keeping it on my bookshelves for now, but I wasn't hooked by it.
In 1800s America, a zombie plague has risen up from the civil war and black people are forced to go to combat schools where they learn how to fight and kill zombies for the protection of white people.
Enter Jane McKeene, a Brave, strong-willed student at Miss Preston’s combat school.
What I love about this book is that it’s more of western that just happens to have zombies in it. You’ve got bandits, bounty hunters, lawmen (woman), but from the perspective not often told in historical-like (especially Westerns) novels, black People.
I also love that the main character are all strong women and they get to do all the fighting. The book also has great lgbtq representation.
From the blurb, I expecting the story to remain in Miss Preston’s School of Combat where it begins, but the story went in such a wonderfully unexpected direction that I found myself constantly surprised.
The heroine is witty and her voice is full of dry humour. The action scenes are also really well written and I loved reading how the fights unfolded, which is something I don't normally enjoy in the books I read.
- Very diverse cast of loveable characters - the main characters are our black bisexual mc and her black aro-ace sidekick, both women
- Sinister setting and very gripping plot
- The change in historical period, in terms of how people understand diseases and science, adds a fun and unique twist to how people understand and deal with a zombie apocalypse
- Lots of wonderful, cathartic moments of badassery from our protagonist Jane