In Dread Nation, Jane McKeane’s life is full of combat training and mischief thanks to her connection with Red Jack. But when Jane, Red Jack, and Jane’s schoolmate, Kate Devereaux, find themselves in a town out west, surrounded by zombies and Survivalist racists, Jane has to put all of her training to good use in order to get out.
This book has been sitting on my Kindle for at least six months, and I only happened to open it when I got bored with A Coven of Her Own. Within two paragraphs, I realized that I had been missing out.
Dread Nation sticks to one truth that I’ve only ever seen in Lovecraft Country: racists will keep up with their racism even in the face of impending death. To be fair, this technically doesn’t need to be a thing in black horror, but it is a reality that needs to change. I liked that this novel kept this bit of realism because as much as I hate depictions of racism, pre- or post- Jim Crow, it worked really well in the context of this story. Almost too well.
I liked Jane’s story. Being the very black daughter of a wealthy, white woman rumored to have had an affair with one of her workers while her husband was off to war is spicy. The way the story opens really makes you care about the complexities involved in Jane’s relationship with her mother, though we, the readers, do come to understand that they love each other very much. As low key as that reveal was, I thought that it was mind-blowing.
I liked that Jane and Kate’s sexuality is very matter-of-fact. Jane has had experiences, and Kate does not want any. The author is not forcing us to be invested in a romance, because it’s not that kind of story, but there is still fodder for the fanfics and the shippers. I love that.
To be quite honest, I don’t have any major complaints about this book, but there are some things that I would like to talk about. The main villain is given a backstory about how he watched his wife be eaten by zombies, and this is what drives him to be so particular about living in a world without them. Jane wonders if he hadn’t fed his wife to the zombies himself, and I thought that would have been an interesting way to go considering that we find out that people who question things tend to disappear and then reappear as zombies.
We are introduced to a ton of characters that seem interesting, but we don’t really get into them. I don’t know if Ireland always intended for this to become a series, but just remembering those characters makes me want to read the sequel just to see if they’ll return. To me it felt like a Checkhov’s gun situation: why tell me about these characters if you don’t intend to use them. Kate’s backstory is not as fully fleshed out as I need it to be, but the decision to give Jane’s mother a second husband and not name him really has me curious.
Ultimately, I look forward to continuing with this series, and this might be a double review by the time it’s posted. I recommend this one to the horror fans, the antebellum fans, the alternate history, and people who just like a good adventure. The racism is very in your face, but not nearly as vile as it could have been, so it’s as light a read as you can get, all things considered. Still, I found this very enjoyable, and I think that a lot of others would as well.
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