Review: Dread Nation (Dread Nation #1)
Title: Dread Nation (Dread Nation #1)
Author: Justina Ireland
Published: 3 April 2018
Format: e-book, overdrive
Memorable Quote: “See, the problem in this world ain’t sinners, or even the dead. It is men who will step on anyone who stands in the way of their pursuit of power.”
Synopsis: (from Goodreads):
“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’m finding this book really hard to review for what seems like a dozen different reasons. While I really enjoyed Jane and Katherine as characters, and appreciated how they grew as individuals and learned how to trust each other, I can’t quite get over a few other parts of the book that just felt…poorly executed?
Before I get into all of that, I want to write about what I enjoyed about the book. First of all, as stated above, Jane and Katherine were really interesting. I enjoyed Jane’s point of view, and the way that she told things exactly how they were. This book does not sugar coat, and Jane is the perfect character to deliver the messages. Jane follows her own set of morals, not worrying much about what other people or their religions say. I truly enjoyed this about her. The girl did what she needed to do to survive in this alternative post-Civil War story.
Katherine could have easily remained the pretty girl who is just there to have quarrels with the protagonist, but she is so much more than that. Katherine is resourceful and determined, and without her, Jane would be in more trouble than she already is. Katherine also passes as white, which impacts a great deal of the story, but it doesn’t necessarily make things better for her.
While most of the book was a bit slow, the ending picked up steam, and I felt myself panicking when I realized that there were only a few pages left, but I had so many questions. It definitely made me want to pick up book 2 (Deathless Divide) ASAP. And thankfully I have it checked out at home.
With a cool concept, bad-ass leading ladies, and a no-nonsense/sugar-coating approach to the realities of racism how could this book be anything less than 5 stars?
One thing that bothered me a bit was the lack of historical accuracy. I realize that this is an alternative historical novel, but the way people spoke seemed quite modern or similar to the 1920’s, as opposed to the 1880’s. Kind of in the same realm, there was a definite lack of world building that I believe mostly stems from the fact that this book is written in the first person. I never really had a clear picture of the setting in my head, and I think Ireland was relying on people being able to envision post Civil War America/The Wild West on their own.
As for the plot – it kind of went all over the place. Jane’s goals seemed to be changing and going back and forth every chapter. Lots of stuff happened, yes, but it just happened and that was that. I feel like the plot was kept slow and really held back because the sequel was going to need something to start with. I don’t know that this book could have been a stand alone, but a number of pages could have been cut out if Jane and Katherine didn’t argue about Jane calling her ‘Kate’ every other page in the first half of the book.
The side characters – Red Jack, Gideon, and Mr. Redfern just popped up here and there without much going into their characters. I would have liked to have gotten to know them a bit better, and I think Gideon got the best development out of all of them, but even that leads to more questions than answers. Maybe we’ll get more in book 2.
Speaking of Mr. Redfern, the way Native Americans are written about was uncomfortable. Dr. Debbie Reece of Nambé Pueblo, American Indians in Children’s Literature, wrote about her own concerns with how Ireland wrote about Native American Boarding Schools.
Finally, there seemed to be a lot of light skin vs dark skin comments made by Jane, and the ones she made about herself and the other characters who had dark skin were very negative. She just seemed to praise light skin or passing people, and even made disparaging remarks about the intelligence and physical features about those with darker skin, including herself without any kind of thought that she was damaging herself those reading the book.
That’s all for now.