Review copy was received from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Series: Dread Nation #1
Published by HarperAudio on April 3, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Length: 11 hours, 56 minutes
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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.
I went into this book not knowing a huge amount about it. I remember when the cover reveal was done and loving the cover. I thought it was just stunning. Then I heard it was about zombies. I’m a huge fan of dystopian stories and especially zombies. The final nail in the coffin saying I had to try this story, Bahni Turpin. I fell in love with her narration when she read the Downside Ghost series by Stacia Kane.
Now, all of that said, there are a few things which did concern me about this story. This is a young adult series. I won’t say I don’t read YA, but I don’t read much. I’m pretty picky. Especially when that YA is set in a school setting, which is where this starts. Dread Nation is also a historical or alternate history story. I don’t read many, if any historical fiction, but I decided to give this book a go. I’m so glad I did.
In this book, the Civil War didn’t end because either side won, but instead because the dead got up and started walking again. Both sides decided they should fight the dead instead of each other. Because neither side won the war, slavery is still an issue and even when it isn’t, the people of color aren’t treated well. We don’t hear anything about buying and selling or even really owning slaves, but black people don’t have control over their lives either. Some white people even think the slaves are more immune to a shambler (which is how they refer to zombies) bite than white people. This isn’t the case, but an excuse to put black folks and Native people on the front lines.
Jane McKeene is a black girl at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore. She is in training to learn to be an attendant to a white woman and how to fight the dead. It makes sense that your attendant should know how to protect you from the shamblers. On a trip into Baltimore for a lecture, Jane quickly learns things aren’t quite what they seem.
I had a really great time with this story. First, Jane is badass. Her friendenemy, Katherine “don’t call me Kate,” isn’t too bad either, though it does take some time for her to grow on me. There are several characters in this story I enjoyed. The one I really want to mention is Gideon. He’s known as “The Tinkerer”. He has created several inventions to help the people in the Kansas town get by. He is also one of the few white people who is actually nice to Jane. There is also The Dutchess, who runs the town’s brothel. She again, is one of the few white people who doesn’t treat Jane as subhuman.
Another thing I really enjoyed about this story was the world Ms. Ireland has built. There are a few differences in these zombies than in other stories I’ve read. First, there are two different forms of zombies. One kind you have to actually be dead to turn, the other can turn you with a bite. The zombies here are also faster when they are first turned and then get slower and slower as they decompose. There are also a few surprises that I don’t want to spoil.
I thought the racial disparity was written really well. I could really see our government, especially back in the 1800’s, coming up with a plan to use people of color as the first line of defense against a plague of shamblers. Then not give them the tools they need to fight off the horde. It also tackles the issue of skin color even amongst people of color. Jane’s friend, Katherine can pass for white, which has its own issues which come up in the story.
This story does start off a little slow, but given the start is in a school setting, I will give it a pass on that issue. By the time Jane, Kathryn and Jackson leave Baltimore for Kansas, the story really picks up. This book really leaves me wanting more. I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger ending of any kind, but Jane is in a place where you really want to know what happens next. You can bet I will be jumping on book two when it is available in 2019.
As I said, I really loved listening to Bahni Turpin in the past. I was very excited to see she was narrating this book. She didn’t disappoint. I really love her narration of this story. She had several different accents. I thought she did a really great job with Jane’s different voices for when she was pretending playing dumb versus Jane being the really smart young woman she was. I love her male and female voices. If you haven’t listened to Bahni Turpin, you’re really missing out.
Listen to a clip: