Review of Dread Nation
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland is an action-packed tale blending the struggles of one young African-American girl in a post-apocalyptic “Old West” world. Jane McKeene is born into a world struggling through the greatest conflict a young nation has faced – the American Civil War. But things take a decidedly more dangerous turn as within days of Jane’s birth the dead suddenly begin walking and cause havoc upon a nation already mired in war. Nobody knows how the undead plague happened, but now Shamblers roam the land and threaten the survival of civilization itself. The story takes place 17 years later, where Jane is enrolled in the prestigious Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Maryland. There Jane is learning the skills necessary to become an Attendant – a woman trained in the art of etiquette as well as combat using sickles, scythe, and gun, so they can be hired to wealthy women as body guards. Jane doesn’t care about being an Attendant and only wants to return to her home and her mother at Rosehill plantation in Kentucky. But Jane soon finds herself embroiled in a political conspiracy and is sent west where she must fight for her very survival.
Dread Nation is a wonderful tale of adventure and Justina Ireland has delivered a strong character in Jane McKeene. Jane is a hot-tempered, brash, single-minded, restless, and strong willed young woman. She is quick to tell a lie when it suits her (which is nearly always), often speaks when she should be listening, and keeps many secrets about her past and her family close to her. She is also practical, very intelligent, a skilled tactician and is very accomplished at dispatching Shamblers, preferably with a sickle – her favorite weapon – but just as easily with a gun or sword. Through Jane’s eyes, and snippets of letters between her and her mother, we learn about the world that is a post-apocalypse United States in the 1880’s. Justina has done a superb job of creating a post-Civil War U.S. that has been devastated by the undead plague. From the idea of the Attendants, who are trained and hired to protect women of means, to the intricate politics between Egalitarians and Survivalists, this is a fully thought out and detailed world. I can’t wait to see more of this world and what will happen to Jane.
I did not have any problems or issues with the story. The other characters, such as Katherine and Jackson, provided a nice contrast to Jane. The minor characters, from the teachers at Miss Preston’s, the Mayor of Baltimore, and the Sheriff and his goons in Kansas, were a bit more stereotypical in the way they were portrayed, but they served a purpose to the story; their backward ideas about race and the undead plague providing a sharp contrast for the reader to better understand the complexities and motivations for Jane.
I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Bahni Turpin, who has done another outstanding job of bringing these characters to life. Her range of voices made each character unique. My one problem with the production of the audiobook was the long pauses between paragraphs in the narration. This was distracting and that feeling never quite left me. A pause is necessary, but the length of these was too long.
I highly recommend Dread Nation. If you love stories of a post-apocalyptic world (even one set in the 19th century) this book is for you. Justina Ireland has created a masterful tale of action, adventure, and powerful characters that will grab your attention. You won’t want to put the book down (or pause the audio).