Book Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Born Two Days After The Dead Began To Rise
Jane remembers stories of her birth just two days before the dead began to rise, from the Aunties that worked in her mother's home, a rich white woman who bought up as many slaves as she could so she could pay them wages to work in her home and farm in Justina Ireland's Dread Nation.
This alternative history take on the Civil War era and the the Truancy Squads that came for Native children to reeducate them to be more "civilized" in boarding schools, in this narrative included children of slaves, believing that these children should be trained in Combat schools to fight the undead.
Jane is in her last year of school, writing home to her mother about how she is being groomed to become an attendant, although her impeccable skills in killing zombies- in this universe called "shamblers" gets her on the radar of the mayor after defending a town hall meeting and a dinner party from undead attackers.
While in school the head mistress, hides Jane's letters from her mother, feeling it will distract from her studies- as well as a punishment for her rambunctious nature and Jane, another rival girl Katherine, pale enough to be passed off as a white woman- and a young man that is both an friend and annoyance of Jane are packed off to defend a town called Summerland as infantry after they have drawn too much attention to themselves.
With her impeccable skills at killing shamblers, Jane is by far the best fighter in her Combat School class using both knives, guns, and scythes to take out her decaying foes. While she feels for the dead, she convinces herself they are no longer people and attests the task is more akin to a farmer taking down livestock.
When attending a lecture, a scholar at combat school for young men, had believed that certain races were immune to becoming zombies due to the developments in homo sapiens that had divided into diverse populations. On stage he tries to demonstrate as he shows his caged shamblers and animals that have been infected.
Bringing forward a young assistant to prove that the vaccination that was provided would keep him from turning, and hinting that the man's race would also help protect him somehow, the young assistant takes a bite and not long after turned- his yellow eyes feral and dangerous as he growled and moved towards the crowded auditorium.
It was then, Jane and Katherine sprang into action- glad they had brought in weapons stashed in hidden pockets in their skirts and killed off the horde.
While town officials wanted to lie that the cities were safe from the infection, Jane and Katherine know better- and they draw more attention to themselves and the problem as they mow down the population of shambers that are springing up.
When moved to defend the Summerland, the girls are again told they are to be vaccinated, even though they know that it will not stop the zombie virus- which its true origin is yet to be explained.
Continuing to pass Katherine off as white, Jane feels this is their opportunity to let herself be seen as Katherine's attendant; and she a woman captured and sent away wrongly in hopes that at least Katherine can go back.
In the last year of their training at Combat School, Jane and Katherine, unlikely friends; are sent away together to be the guards of the Summerland- the mayor feeling that if the two girls are killed in their duties, it should not be so hard to replace them. Knowing what is at stake, Jane urges everyone around to believe Katherine is white, as she is passable enough to maybe be able to be sent back.
Life was simple back at Rose Hill, where Jane was born.
While white neighbors never understood why her wealthy mother provided opportunities for black families to live under her protection and work for her as she paid them a wage. Jane's mother hid her easily for the first eleven years of her life with the Aunties whenever the Truancy Guards came to fetch children to take away to Combat Schools.
Jane was educated by her mother and knew the basics of reading and politics, but this wasn't the life she wanted. She wants nothing more than to return back to her roots at Rose Hill and be with her mother and her people again.
She recalls when she was young and the first time that she saw a shambler which she and other children found caught in barbed wire and poked at with a stick. Eventually the zombie woman had reached out and buried her teeth in the throat of one of the boys and he had to be killed to keep from turning.
Even Rose Hill is not hidden from the shamblers, when her mother's husband after eight years of being gone at war came home for a short time only to find out about Jane and mistreat her- but he didn't last long before he somehow became one of the shamblers himself and was put out of his misery.
Through the hidden letters from home, Jane realizes that her mother never stopped thinking about her and loving her-her biggest fears are somewhat soothed although the world is no longer safe no matter where you are.
Given a Hoodoo penny necklace by one of the Aunties, Jane can use her enchanted necklace to sense when something is wrong including the shamblers approaching or bad situations. The night before the dinner party- her necklace grows cold, like a snowball at her collarbone, but Jane is not successfully in bowing out on the dinner party which ends up an ambush to have her and Katherine sent away.
Dread Nation and its upcoming books in the series are a fresh new take on both the world of the zombie lore and alternative history tales. While the story of the Combat Schools are an ingenious invention of Ireland's tale-telling to incorporate how children of slaves would have also have been rounded up for the reeducation- the idea is founded in fact as Native children were taken during early American history to be brought up "civilized and Christian" away from their families.
Dread Nation is a fantastic tale of heroism and never strays from the what we love best about teen post apocalyptic fiction and strong female characters that will take down the government a la Katniss.
Dread Nation paints a gory tale of the dead rising from historic battle fields and marching home to eat their way through the population that is true nightmare fuel. Wielding her scythes, Jane has the situation well underhand in the first installment of the series and will go on to battle her way to the likes of notoriety in the future of this series.