Review Wednesday: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (#1)

Dread Nation #1 (planned duology as of this date)

Blurb:
“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.”

Review:
This was so creepy.  And so good.  I just wish there was a little more to it.  Still, my life is better having had this book in it.

“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.”


1.  The characters.  This was simultaneously my favorite and least favorite part.  On one hand, Jane is spectacularly built.  I loved getting to know her through her sass, uncertainties, and relationships with those around her.  She’s such an interesting character to muddle through and I loved every minute.  Her coconspirator, Katherine, is equally intriguing and was my favorite character of the whole book.  She was so realistic in her expectations and thoughts.  I especially appreciated how the author took care to give her little moments where certain dignities came to light.  You know those moments when something happens that doesn’t jive with a character’s self and moral standings and even though it’s highly inappropriate to care about such a thing right then, they do anyway?  That’s how Katherine was and it is amazing.  However, once you pass beyond the initial circle of characters, things drop off precipitously.  For instance, I couldn’t keep the headmistresses at the combat school straight mainly because their supposedly distinguishing characteristics didn’t really distinguish them at all.  In the town setting in the second half of the book, the secondary characters were much better.

“It’s a cruel, cruel world. And the people are the worst part.”


2.  The plot.  I loved this aspect.  The beginning starts off a little slow but mostly because of the world building (which I’ll talk about later) but it really picks up after the 1/3rd mark.  There is never a dull moment and it kept me on the edge of my seat.  I could have done with a little more mystery and understanding revolving around the town (there’s this big secret that’s hinted at but still isn’t resolved at the end which kind of irritated me).  I’m hoping that’ll be remedied in the second book, though, and they’ll explore the questions left unresolved in the first one.  I really enjoyed the direction the author took her idea as well.  It’s something that I’ve never really experienced before and I especially loved how the author worked in some IRL conversations about passing (when someone with ‘mixed blood’ can ‘pass’ as a white person and therefore bypass a lot of injustices).

“My momma always said the best way to get what you want from people is to give them what they think they want. They expected me to be stupid, so I used that to our advantage.”


3.  The world.  Like the plot, I loved the direction the author took this in.  It’s an interesting concept that I think was thought out well but not entirely executed.  It’s like when something makes sense in your head so you don’t even really think about how other people might not understand it right away because they’ve never thought of it that way.  That’s out the world worked out.  I just need a decent amount of clarifying details.  For instance: what happened to the Civil War?  It was interrupted by the plague (where did the plague come from; did they never figure that out???) but how was it resolved?  Is it still one country or two?  What else in history was changed because of this?  What year is it actually?  The micro worldbuilding is very good (specifically, the school and the town) but the macro needs to be expanded a little more.

“Sometimes it’s easier to think about other folks’ small hurts than your big ones.”


4.  The romance.  I’m sure you’re all wondering if any romance exists in this and I’m happy to report that while there is a small micro plotline (more like a single thread in the tapestry) it isn’t addressed much and it’s more of an undertone.  I loved this because, really, if there were a romance plotline added to everything else going on, it would be too much.

“But that’s the way life goes most of the time: the thing you least count on comes along and ruins everything else you got planned.”


The Final Verdict:
An engaging story made of whirling shadows of vengeance and mystery.  A bit more macro world building and secondary character development would be appreciated.
4 stars


Will I continue with the series?
Um yes of course!  If nothing else, I really want to see how the ending pans out!

Talk to me!  Have you read this?  What did you think of it?  How do you feel about micro vs maco world building?

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