By Rita Nicholson
The idea of a zombie apocalypse can be found in a lot of media, from video games, to movies, to books. However overdone the genre may be, Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation is the exception. Dread Nation is a fresh and completely original take on zombies.
Set in an alternate history after the Civil War, zombies, called shamblers, have began to rise. The safety of everyone in the nation is at stake, and Native and African American children are required by the Negro and Native Reeducation Act to attend combat schools. The narrator, Jane McKeene, is studying at Miss Preston’s School of Combat to be an Attendant, essentially a bodyguard against shamblers. Jane is in her last year at Miss Preston’s, and she’s eager to return home. But then everything goes wrong when Jane gets caught up in the corrupt motives of certain people in power.
Overall, Dread Nation exceeded expectations. It’s more than just a zombie novel; it has an absolutely original premise, excellent writing and plot, and great characters. A zombie novel set in the Civil War area is practically unheard of. Dread Nation is one of a kind. The writing style is one of the best things about this book. The description and flow of the story are so well done that it’s effortless to vividly imagine the story as it happens. Justina Ireland’s writing goes into a lot of detail, but it’s not overdone. There’s just enough there to provide a complete understanding of the events and setting without overwhelming the reader. The plot is fast-paced as well, but, once again, slow enough for the reader to fully comprehend. The action is neverending, providing constant thrills and surprises. Several plot twists are included in Dread Nation; each and every one of them are shocking and unpredicted. The ending is also shocking and a major cliffhanger. The next book can’t come out soon enough.
Jane, the main character, is an exceptional character. She has an extremely admirable personality. Throughout all the hardships she encounters in Dread Nation she always uses her cunning and ambition to pull through. Not once does she allow herself to even think about giving up and letting the circumstances overcome her. She’s not afraid to protect the ones close to her and take the lead when no one else steps up. However strong a character Jane may be, she is still flawed. She possesses a temper, and it leads her to be reckless on several occasions. She can be petty at times, although by the end of the novel she’s grown from that. Overall, Jane McKeene is a well created and written character.
On the other hand, the other characters in Dread Nation aren’t quite as developed. It’s as if their personalities, motives and backgrounds are underdeveloped. There is not anything to truly define them and make them stand out among the other characters. A few of the antagonists’ motives are not credible, or in some cases, nonexistent. It’s difficult to understand why the antagonists act as they do. Another area that is lacking is the history between certain characters. Few details were mentioned about the relationships, and it would’ve greatly benefited the reader’s understanding of the connections between characters and the events in the plot if more background information was provided.
Additionally, there is a small element of magic included in Dread Nation; this element is also underdeveloped, as well as unfitting. The author never went into an explanation about magic and its place in the setting, which left a lot of unanswered questions. The concept of magic doesn’t mix well with the setting either. Dread Nation’s general theme is about zombies, fighting, and survival, not magic. Because of this, the element of magic in the story comes across as a last minute decision without much thought put into it.
Dread Nation isn’t a perfect book, but it’s pretty close to it. It is definitely a recommended read and one of the best works in the zombie genre.