Skip to main content

Dread Nation

Review

Dread Nation

From author of VENGEANCE BOUND and PROMISE OF SHADOWS, Justina Ireland, comes DREAD NATION. Ireland’s newest historical fiction gives readers insight to how historical America may have wound up if the Civil War subsequently resulted in an uprising of zombies, as opposed to the abrupt termination that came with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

DREAD NATION follows Jane McKeene, a biracial teenager living in a war-ridden America. However, although slavery in the United States has been abolished, racism is still a thriving and integral part of American culture and values. Jane’s mother is a white plantation owner in Kentucky, but Jane is unfortunately stuck living at Miss Preston’s School of Combat, where she is training to protect white American citizens from zombie attacks, despite how undeserving they are of protection from her and others.

"Through Jane, Ireland has truly crafted one of the most well developed and complex characters I have ever read."

Jane wants to return to her plantation in Kentucky, but instead is being forced to serve and protect white citizens without choice, along with other black and Native American children. Soon, however, Jane finds herself being unwillingly taken to a town that further reinforces the idea the Jane is not worthy of fair treatment, all while saving them from the undead.

DREAD NATION is by no means for the faint of heart. Our protagonist, Jane, is refreshingly honest and raw. She doesn’t feel the need to conform to what society tells her to be, but she remains brutally loyal, and extremely skilled. Through Jane, Ireland has truly crafted one of the most well developed and complex characters I have ever read. Jane is constantly balancing her inner-sense of duty, her resentment towards those who refuse to acknowledge her humanity and her conflicting feelings about her mother and familial relationships. Along with Jane being so well-developed, Ireland begins chapters with letters Jane has written to her mother, offering gradual insight to what Jane’s life was like at home, and conflict arising from having a white-mother and a mixed-race daughter in 19th century America.

Not only is Jane an excellently written character, but her best friend and sidekick Katherine is exquisitely written as well. The most interesting issue developing from Katherine’s involvement is the introduction of a character who is mixed-race, but white-passing. Through the inclusion of Katherine, Ireland explores an interesting identity-crisis often overlooked in America, pertaining to many biracial people, and the internal struggle of belonging. Aside from what Katherine represents, the development of her friendship with Katherine over time was refreshing, and very representative of what loyalty and friendship really means.

While at surface-level DREAD NATION appears to be about an amazing zombie-slaying heroine (which it definitely is), the story Ireland tells is so much deeper than this. The glaring message of this book shows readers that even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, there would still be those more focused on the power they hold and how to retain it. Because at its core, DREAD NATION, through a depiction of an even crueler Civil War, reveals the true prejudice and injustice engrained within American society, even today. Exposing the true inclusion of racism in America’s past, Ireland creates a story not just those looking to learn something about our history will love, but those who need to finally feel like their truth is being shared will as well.

Reviewed by Savana W., Teen Board Member on April 11, 2018

Dread Nation
by Justina Ireland