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Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation: a woman of colour holds a sickle standing in profile in front of a US flagA review by Nalini Haynes

Jane tells her story in Dread Nation, the United States as a nation fallen during the 19th century civil war when the dead rose from their graves to attack both the North and South.

Jane is trained as an Attendant. Think ‘Handmaiden’ but instead of being ritually raped, Attendants are women of color who ‘attend’ wealthy white women to protect them from the living and the dead.

Flashbacks counterpoint Jane’s training and adventure. Her idyllic childhood was marred ‘only’ by abuse, attempted murder and zombie attacks, Jane disobeys her mother to join other teenagers conscripted into special combat schools. Not allowed to read or write, people of color only function to fight and maintain the highest standards of etiquette.

And that etiquette!  People of color are not even second-class citizens: they are treated like slaves once more. “Survivalists believe that the continued existence of humanity depends on securing the safety of white Christian men and women — whites being superior and closest to God — so that they might [rebuild]” (p. 64). OMG if the planet relies on those who fall within the ever-changing definition of ‘white’, we’re doomed. Ireland’s narration references real historical writers, some of whom exist in her alternate universe to propagate their foul mythology to reinforce their own superior entitlement. In this Ireland, like Atwood before her, sounds a clarion warning to readers. The question is, who will listen? And will it be too late?

Despite rules and regulations fencing all the girls, Jane meets and falls in love with Jackson, who is a rebel and ne’er-do-well. Kathleen, a rival in school and in love, complicates matters as does a sudden forced trip to a southern community. This township is be-leagued by zombies who threaten the survival of the living while factions divide the few survivors.

Dread Nation is a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Hidden Figures (if the latter was fiction), exposing both misogyny and racism in Western countries. I highly recommend it.

Book details

Rating: 4 stars
ISBN: 0062570609 (ISBN13: 9780062570604)
Publisher: Titan Books
Format: paperback, 449pp
Category: Young Adult, zombies, race, social issues
Awards: Hugo Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Book (Lodestar Award) (2019), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2018)

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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