Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
His words are mild ; his tone is not. And what he says unlocks some long-buried memory. Just like that, I’m no longer in the lecture hall but back at Rose Hill Plantation, watching as the major slowly uncoils his horsewhip from its hook.
This ain’t your place, girl. You run back inside ‘fore you’re next.
(Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. P76.)
Jane McKeene is nearing the end of her training at Miss Preston’s School Of Combat. Since the shamblers first rose on the battlefields of the American Civil War, a programme has been in place to train young black people in the combat skills necessary to keep them at bay.
Jane was born to a white mother and longs to find her way home. Instead, she is sent far away to a Western outpost where she uncovers terrible secrets. It seems not all the monsters are undead.
A zombie story with a political message about the consequences of ignorance and division.
At last, a zombie novel which challenges the reader’s intelligence and makes a statement about the current political climate.
The shamblers (what a great word for zombies) are terrifying. They are unashamedly gory and bear a close resemblance to their living forms, roaming the world in ragged clothes.
They are not the only antagonists.
The Survivalists Party puts out propaganda about non-white people’s links to the shamblers and attempts to save themselves by building a wall. You would have to have spent the past two years with your head in the sand if you can’t spot similarities to political events in modern America.
Jane is a feisty and unapologetic heroine whose ideas about combat are often three steps ahead of her elders. She is forced to fight the zombies against her will, and at the same time she is faced with a climate which views her as something less than a person. As well as being an alternative history which builds on very real events, the book speaks out about the experiences faced by black people at the hands of the countries, politicians and neighbours.
If it sounds bleak, remember that this book is giving voice to experiences which have been white-washed out of history. Own voices fantasy brings lived experiences to a mainstream audience, and the world will be a richer place for having these voices in print.
A zombie novel like none I have read before. It proves that zombie stories can be about more than cheap thrills and that the most real horror is the systematic oppression faced by groups in society.
Thanks to Titan Books for my gifted copy of Dread Nation. Opinions my own.