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Dread Nation

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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.

455 pages, Hardcover

First published April 3, 2018

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About the author

Justina Ireland

102 books2,748 followers
Justina Ireland is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books including Dread Nation and its sequel Deathless Divide, the middle-grade novel Ophie's Ghosts, which won the Scott O'Dell award for historical fiction, and a number of Star Wars books including Flight of the Falcon: Lando’s Luck, Spark of the Resistance, A Test of Courage, Out of the Shadows, and Mission to Disaster. She is a former editor in chief of FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, for which she won a World Fantasy Award. She holds a BA in History from Georgia Southern and an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,961 reviews
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews153k followers
August 25, 2018
this book inspired me to start going to the gym because I've realized that at this rate if zombies arrived, I would be truly, absolutely, unequivocally FUCKED
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
May 16, 2019
I shrug. “My momma always said the best way to get what you want from people is to give them what they think they want. Sometimes you have to live down to people’s expectations, Kate. If you can do that, you’ll get much further in life.”
Honestly, black zombie hunters in the Reconstruction era is definitely the best historical fiction concept of all time. And the fact that this totally, completely lived up to my hopes? Even better.

I think this is a book action fans are going to enjoy. Dread Nation may be a full 450 pages, but I felt like this book never stopped moving. I even felt - and I never say this about 500 page books, because come on - that I could've broken a reading slump with this. I solidly enjoyed every moment I spent reading.

Beyond the nonstop action, I adored our two lead characters. Yes, I said two lead characters, but for once the other lead isn't our badass girl lead's love interest - she's her girl best friend. THANK GOD.
Jane, our lead, is a fantastic actress, fantastic liar, and even, at times, a slightly unreliable narrator. And she loves dragging people. And she is the bi icon we all need in our lives. While I somewhat wished she has a more solid character arc - you all know me and my character arcs - her character has such a strong voice that I ended up loving her anyway.
Katherine, a character so developed I'd almost consider her a protagonist, is so good. She's black, but light skinned enough to pass as white, something that leads to resentment from her fellow trainees. Also, she's established quite clearly as ace-aro without the terminology being used, which: A+.

Besides the nonstop action and the character work, the best thing about this book is probably the theme work. Jane and Katherine's friendships originates from a plotline involving slut-shaming, girl competition, and Jane's own internalized dislike for lighter-skinned black people being majorly subverted. And given that there's no romance, the friendship between Jane and Katherine serves as the centerpiece of the book. And the themes around racism are so well-done - this is an ownvoices book and it definitely shows.

Okay, and also, a rant: hooooooo boy, I am such a slut for history. This is un-boring historical fiction that still keeps all the nerdy references. The worldbuilding is full of nods to history. The use of terms like the Five Civilized Tribes, “War Between The States,” and “War Of Northern Aggression.” The entire thematic point of the combat schools for black and indigenous people. Deep South States are now called Lost States of the South due to lack of patrols and lack of winter during which dead lie down, the mention of germs as a controversial idea and idea of an original Gettysburg strain and a transferable Custer strain, the scientific racism developing around “coloreds,” the conflict of party-based Survivalists vs the Egalitarians, and the little details of the worldbuilding, like the fact that carriages are called ponies because all the horses have all been eaten - it's all there and it's all brilliant. YES, I AM A NERD. LEAVE ME ALONE.

While there's a cast of intriguing side characters, something I really enjoyed here is that for the most part, the characters facing oppression are the focus. While characters like Professor Ghering and Miss Duncan are given dimension, the lens of the book falls mainly on characters like Red Jack, who are actually dealing with the problems caused by slavery. It's both a realistic aspect, considering Jane narrates, and an aspect that I really appreciate and haven't seen in enough books thus far.

As several comments on negative or mediocre reviews of this book seem to imply that people only like this book because they respect the author, I want to clarify that at least for me, this is a review of the book, not the author . I have had no trouble in the past giving negative reviews to people I respect, and frankly, it seems disrespectful to both Ireland herself and to the positive reviewers on this page to imply that people only liked the book because they like the author. Like, dude, if you don't like this book that's fine, but don't get offended by the fact that other people did like this book? Maybe they just disagreed with you. Come on.

Listen, diverse YA historical fiction is really bringing back literature right now. It's not a coincidence that all three of the BR Squad - Melanie, Destiny, and I - gave this a full five. Not only is this book relevant, especially now, it's also just one of the most enjoyable books I've read recently. I can hardly wait for Dread Nation to release. I don't even know how I'm going to wait for the sequel - reread, maybe? But either way, you are all going to love this.

**I actually do want to note that the author tweeted something recently that seemed to imply Asian people are white, which was very odd, and then didn't really clarify and instead doubled down?? So idk how we're feeling about that. I would definitely recommend this book [I love this book]. I don't know about this author.

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May 31, 2018
The worst thing about this book is that I mentally read it with a Southern drawl. It is unbelievably annoying.

Most of the time, I go into a book with certain expectations. "I'm going to love this book" "Oh, this sounds just awful" so on and so forth. I have to admit, the premise didn't sound that great to me. Zombies are boring. Civil-war era America (even after a zombie apocalypse) doesn't sound terribly awesome either. So I have to admit I started this book with a whole lot of skepticism, and the first 50 pages fulfilled my expectations. The heroine is kind of annoying. The other characters don't seem that great.

But then, to my great surprise it became really good.

The book caught me with the first zombie fight scene. It is damned hard to make that exciting. Tbh most zombie series are pretty boring to me. I ain't scurred of anything I can outrun, and considering I go to the gym and do massive amounts of cardio (in preparation for the zombie apocalypse, of course. The Zombie Survival Guide book recommends cardio), I can pretty much outrun anything you can imagine. RAWR! So the concept of shambling braaaaaaaaaains zombie really isn't that terrifying to me.

The worst thing about a zombie apocalypse would be not being able to shower regularly tbh. Oh, and there would probably be no cell service *insert screaming emoji here*

But back to the book. The premise is that there's a zombie apocalypse but the US has pretty much recovered, the cities are safe. Zombies (here called shamblers) are still wandering around, and blah blah something Act passed and now our half-black heroine, Jane is at a finishing school of sorts where one learns to kill zombies and become a fancy Attendant to white ladies.
An Attendant’s job is simple: keep her charge from being killed by the dead, and her virtue from being compromised by potential suitors. It is a task easier said than done.
There is a lot more action than I expected. The mystery is interesting. Jane herself is kind of bitchy (which I hated at first) but that is reined in by her self-awareness. She recognizes her own biases and tries to reason with herself. She is an incredibly strong, confident character.

And speaking of biases, Katherine another girl at the finishing school, who is initially Jane's rival. She is beautiful, a golden-haired, light-eyed black girl who can "pass" as white. I really liked the way Jane and Katherine's relationship develops.

The mystery is compelling. The friendship well-build. The romance believable and barely noticeable. This was a really fun read, besides the Southern accent in which I read it. DAMMIT.
Profile Image for  Teodora .
307 reviews1,646 followers
March 29, 2023
3.75/5 ⭐

Full review on my Blog: The Dacian She-Wolf 🐺

Because February is always Black History Month (and, mind you, I've read this book in February), this fearless heroine of ours is a fearless girl of colour leaving in the times of the Civil War in the United States. You know the Civil War, right? The North starts battling the South in order to abolish slavery. There is blood, there is gore, there is loss and there are...zombies.

Quick thingy here: does anyone actually remember that Scooby-Doo film though? That particular one when the whole gang travels to Zombie Island?

If yes, I swear to God, the atmosphere of the book felt exactly the same to me. It even had a slight scare-factor the film has.

Please do check it out if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. It’s going to put to shame all the contemporary horror films this industry has come up with recently, I promise you.


Anyway, back to it, this book is good though. I mean, it has a killer potential. The idea of the plot is interesting enough and the world is built with historical accuracy.

There is a whole, let’s say, educational system for Native Americans and Negro children implemented in the States in order to teach them the combat methods against the undead. This whole system was based on the already existent in our real-life chain of (re)educational schools for the Native Americans across the States. It is quite an interesting parallel that is very well adapted for the book. Historically, this could be accurate. The combat schools for Negroes could’ve been a real deal if the world was plagued by the undead.

What bothered me about this book was the fact that it felt a bit uneventful. There’s not much action as the plot unravels and it makes me kind of sad. Killing the undead could be kind of exciting even though they are pathetically slow horror creatures. Or maybe I am being too pretentious now.
I need for the sequel to pick up the pace a bit, it’s a lot of action to come from such a good book idea.

Jane, our protagonist, is headstrong and smart and she has a need to be self-sufficient because this is how she was raised to be. Katherine is the one who wants to be praised for what she is as a complex creature of many talents and not only for her looks. Jackson is a rascal that is always ready to do anything to save the one he loves.

“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.”

There are fanatics there. The religious kind. Or fanatics in the way of those who believe they can play god and get their way with it and those who blindly follow a path towards an ideal, without looking on which dead bodies they’re stepping. The course of history is sprinkled with people like that so I find their presence in the book very accurate. And I do blame them and I'm not excusing myself for it.

There is also the matter of the supremacy of the white man. Race plays a crucial role in the society depicted in the book. If you’re not white, you’re unable to do anything else but “know your place” and “serve the whites”. Which is another historical fact that demanded to be abolished then and demands to be abolished now. Why do people love to play at life and anger heavens? Why does the lust for power blind people and pushes them toward abysmal deeds?

There’s no love for people like that. And there’s also no hope.

From the book itself, one can clearly see that the ones prone to gain power and absolute control are the most miserable ones. And the ones who struggle and fight and let themselves be are the ones who understand how life really works.

Just take a look at Jane and everyone she befriends. Her friendship with Kate feels like the real deal because sometimes we don’t get to choose our friends but just happens to gravitate around each other. And the same goes for their friendship with Jackson. And with the young visionary Gideon who appeared from the beginning to be one of the kind-hearted ones. All four of them are just the perfect team (in my opinion).


If this book had a bit more speed, some more dynamic force, I think it would’ve been better than it currently is but I guess it was kept to the pace of the shamblers (which are kind of lame if you ask me).

I say it’s worth a shot, even if it’s only for the thrill of amazingly fearless girls slaying smelly, undead corpses!

Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,543 reviews9,857 followers
April 26, 2023
In Dread Nation, Ireland beautifully blends Historical Fiction and Horror. It's a fast-paced, bloody, action-packed story!

Set in a turbulent United States, just after the Civil War, the country is plagued by the walking dead.

Jane McKeene, our intrepid protagonist, is attending Miss Preston's School for Girls and struggling to find her place in the world.

Life hasn't always been kind to Jane and she has had to develop a thick resolve in order to push through the hardships. Unfortunate as that may be, this fact has served her well when it comes to cutting down zombies.

Being trained at Miss Preston's School means not just etiquette and other educational basics, it means weapons training as well. A lot of it.

You see, Jane's job will someday be to protect some rich family she's not a part of from the dangers on their doorstep.

But before she knows it, things go astray. Jane gets caught spying on some very powerful people and is punished by being banished from Baltimore Country.

Now a prisoner aboard a train with her picture-perfect frenemy, Kate, and her ex-beau, Red Jack, Jane feels helpless.

Their destination, Summerland; a sort of Western outcrop community reminiscent of Deadwood.

Once there, a whole host of drama ensues, including standoffs with the undead, known throughout the novel as shamblers.

There were so many compelling elements to this story. The historical landscape was wonderfully done, as well as the frank representation of race relations in this time period.

In fact, I feel that the level of historical elements woven throughout the story was perfect.

I also really enjoyed the relationship between Jane and Katherine, who Jane always calls Kate, even after Katherine repeatedly asks her not to.

They start out disliking one another, but their relationship evolves so much over the course of the story into one of true friendship.

I always enjoy that kind of friendship in a story, particularly female/female.

I also thought the zombie element was really tastefully done. It is descriptive enough, and concept-driven enough, to make this a full-fledged tale of a world-fighting-zombies, without overwhelming and negating some of the other important plot points.

It's like zombie-light and I do mean that in a good way.

My only, very slight critique, is that it seemed a little long to me. I would have been just as happy with this story if 30 or 40-pages, or so, had been edited out. As I always say, however, that is 100% personal preference and opinion.

I do think this left off at an incredible spot for a continuation. I will definitely be continuing on with this series and look forward to watching Jane be her brutal, badass self.

If you are looking for a fun, zombie-inspired tale, I would definitely recommend this!
Profile Image for Heidi Heilig.
Author 9 books1,313 followers
January 27, 2017
This is what i'm envisioning after every zombie slay.

Profile Image for Kaylin (The Re-Read Queen).
423 reviews1,630 followers
October 23, 2018
3 Stars

"It's a cruel, cruel world. And the people are the worst part."

I just want to preface this review by saying I think this book is extremely important. It's historical fiction with zombies, sure, but it also centers on a very strong, biracial woman. I can't speak for the representation as a whole, but I will say I loved how unapologetic Jane is.

Taking place in an alternate US where zombies rose up during the Civil War, this takes a long hard look at institutionalized racism. Jane is a student at 'Miss Preston's School of Combat' where she trains to fight the zombies (or "shamblers") for 'privileged white folk.' She's also razor-sharp and precisely aware of how others perceive her.

This also has some wonderful discussions about femininity, as both mains are (very different) young women. Jane initially resents Kate, as Kate is more traditionally feminine, and with lighter features that allow her to "pass." Not only do these two learn to work together, but their initial dislike and Jane's assumptions are addressed.

There's also great ace and bi representation

But as amazing as these discussions were-- and as much fun as the zombie slaying was, the plot is a mess. It honestly felt like two different books combined into one, as the entire first half is dedicated to a setting and characters that rapidly shift to something entirely different. Instead of a linear plot that builds things just happen. The story doesn't build much tension, instead relying solely upon character arcs while chaos occurs.

(Side note: I loved how smart and intuitive Jane was, but she also somehow seems to correctly guess everything??)

Jane's letters back home are intriguing and tell a completely different story in-between chapters-- but it adds up to set-up for three separate stories Sadly to me, so much of this build up led to a tiny (and kind of random) conclusion. There's a lot of set up for the rest of the series, but there's still something dissatisfying about how completely unfinished everything is.

I have a feeling this is going to be one of my most unpopular opinions, as I can see this being very successful (and I hope it is!) But while there were so many great things about this book, the haphazard plot really detracted from them for me.

I received an ARC through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review! Thanks to Balzer + Bray for the opportunity! (Quotes not final!)
Profile Image for jv poore.
612 reviews204 followers
June 20, 2022
A quintessential, suspenseful YA novel with a compelling lead character that is courageous and kind (although Jane may disagree with latter). Ms. Ireland sneaks in some not-so-well-known U.S. history about whites sending Native American children to boarding schools where they could learn to be "civilized", creating truly chilling story.
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
February 27, 2021
looking for great books to read during black history month...and the other eleven months? i'm going to float some of my favorites throughout the month, and i hope they will find new readers!

fulfilling my 2020 goal to read (at least) one book each month that i bought in hardcover and put off reading long enough that it is now in paperback.

why did it take me so long to read this book when i knew the first time i saw that cover that it was coming home with me?



it may have just been zombie-fatigue—i'm more inclined these days to read zombie-variants (like RABIES-ZOMBIES) or one where the zombie threat is more of a secondary/subplot conflict than the novel's main focus.

this one features your straightforward nom nom zombies, but it has the novelty of being set in an alt-history reconstruction-era america where the (re)birth of a postwar nation and all of the expected challenges facing a fractured country are complicated further by the rebirth of SO MANY CORPSES!! and the students of Miss Preston's School of Combat for Negro Girls shall employ their scythes against them.

so, yessssss, it's more of those same-old/been-there/done-that zombies, but the human characters are terrific and the story is great fun; fast-paced and actiony without being insubstantial and i loved it right down to its bones, both for what it is and for what it is not. i love jane's wry angry voice and general badassery; killing shamblers and kicking racists when they're down, not so focused that she doesn't notice when there are pretty boys around, but really just far too busy to engage in a romantic subplot, tyvm.

equally busy but also refreshingly uninterested in any romantic entanglements at any time, secondary character/frenemy katherine is just as appealing a heroine, and an excellent foil to jane—a little more patient and adept at the long-game, weaponizing her beauty and trying to ignore the discomfort she feels in being white-passing, and all of the advantages that brings.

i love their bicker and their banter; their vinegar turning into honey as they band together by necessity to take on whatever gets in their way. and while the zombies are certainly there, they're far from being the only or even the most prominent threat because white men have all kinds of ideas and no kind of restraint.

and i hope i don't put off reading the second book as long as i did this one because that cliffhanger had teeth and this cover is equally swoony.

come to my blog!!
Profile Image for Bang Bang Books.
491 reviews212 followers
November 15, 2020
Wanna listen to our reviews instead of reading, check out our podcast. https://thenoveluniverse.podbean.com

The year is 1880 and slavery has kind of ended in the traditional sense but blacks and native Americans are now forced to enter combat schools to learn how to fight zombies.

Our main character is Jane who is a sassy bi-racial zombie killing machine that takes no shits from anyone. This book has all the fixin’s, Katherine a snooty student who is passing as white, Jackson a sexy hustler/sexual harasser, a racist sheriff, and a corrupt mayor. Our trio lives and trains in Baltimore and their only future of becoming personal bodyguards for “rich white folks” is not something they are looking forward to until they are abducted and forced to fight zombies in the new hope for America-Kansas.

Dread Nation is what I like to call a book that has all bones and no meat. There’s a solid idea but it’s basically bunch of events, zombie attacks, in-between a bunch of nothing. This book is contingent on world building because this is a new world. Post Civil War America is different than what we know because of zombies so there needs to be some solid world building BUT because this book is written in first person where Jane talks to the reader, the entire world is info dumped. When you have a first person POV, your world building options are limited. I looked through my personal library of fantasy and almost all of them are third person with the exception of Kiss of Deception that relies on interludes of old texts for world building. With Dread Nation, all we get is the old south with their plantations and zombies. Then they go to the old west where there’s a brothel, a church, and a saloon, and zombies. That’s not world building; that’s all old west movies. If that’s what Ireland is going for, relying on the reader’s preconceived ideas of the old south and the old west, why did this book need to be 464 pages?

Ireland tried to do something with the Katherine Jane relationship where they start off as enemies but it ended up being nothing new or special. Jane is an okay character as far as her sass but she’s also smarter than everyone else in the room and that got annoying. A racist who constantly calls the blacks darkies does not a villain make. We expect the corrupt white sheriff to be racist but what else about him makes him evil? There were several white villains like this and it got repetitive.

This is really just a book that contain themes and storylines that we’ve all read a bunch of times. There’s nothing new here which is a shame because it’s an interesting idea.
Profile Image for Rachel  L.
1,830 reviews2,188 followers
January 18, 2023
4 stars!

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

I listened to this audiobook on the recommendation of a friend and I really enjoyed it. Dread Nation is a book that's been in the back of my mind and I am really glad I read it, especially because there's another book coming out.

Dread Nation is about a young woman named Jane about 15+ years after the Civil War. The twist is, the Civil War ended in this world because all the dead rose up and became "shamblers" or basically, zombies. In Jane's world, black girls are sent to schools by the government to learn how to fight so they can kill the dead. But in a world quickly being overrun by the dead and dirty politicians, Jane finds herself in places she never expected.

“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.”

I really enjoyed this book, I thought the characters and world building were fantastic. Some of my favorite parts involved Jane and Katherine and their development from enemies to friends. There were some questions I had left unanswered, and I hope they are addressed in the next book. While I was listening I kept wondering when certain mysteries would be solved and then they weren't so that took away my enjoyment a little bit.

If you're into audiobooks I recommend you listen to this one, the narrator did an amazing job. And I recommend this book in general because I enjoyed it very much and think many other readers will too.

“Sometimes you have to live down to people's expectations, Kate. If you can do that, you'll get much further in life.”

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Profile Image for NickReads.
461 reviews1,199 followers
Want to read
November 20, 2018
I was today years old when I found out that this book exists.
Profile Image for Erin .
1,234 reviews1,143 followers
January 4, 2019
4.5 Stars

When I first heard about this book last year, I knew I needed to read it. I'm not usually into zombies. I've never watched an episode of The Walking Dead and I usually laugh at zombie movies but this book peaked my interest immediately. I love Historical Fiction, add to that African American Historical Fiction and I'm sold.

Justina Ireland took one of the most dark and terrifying times in history Reconstruction and made it even more terrifying by adding zombies. Not only does our heroine Jane have to fight zombies against her will but she also has to deal with still not being considered a person. The zombies in this book were a nuisance, the true monsters were as always other humans.

This novel is so necessary. While zombies aren't real, racism and subjugation are. The survivalist in this book blamed enslaved African Americans and Native Americans for the zombie outbreak and they thought that they could save themselves by building a wall but as I'm sure you guess that didn't work. Justina Ireland wrote an fantasy-laced alternate history book that speaks to America's Original Sin racism.

Dread Nation is fun, original, badass, and intelligent. Young Adult books often talk down to its audience but Dread Nation doesn't do that. Our heroine Jane is sassy, sarcastic, impulsive and she kicks both zombie and redneck ass. This book is very necessary for the Culture.

I did deduct half a star for the genre turn it took about 200 pages in but other than that I highly recommend this book.

Hooked On Books September Read A Thon
Around the Year in 52 Books: An alternate history book
2018 Badass Books Reading Challenge: A book you've put off reading
2018 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: A western.
Profile Image for Danielle.
809 reviews404 followers
March 2, 2021
This was a pretty darn good world that Justina created. 😱 The short explanation is zombies pop up during the civil war. But it’s definitely got a lot more to it than that. Jane is one bad ass b. ❤️ I loved her character. I also loved the audiobook, choosing Bahni Turpin was a great choice for Jane’s voice. 👍 Given the time setting, the law set in place (“the Native and Negro Re-education Act”), the treatment of people in this book is gut wrenching and will make you steaming mad. I’m excited to read the next one!! ❤️📚
Profile Image for Zoraida.
Author 36 books4,023 followers
January 3, 2018
This book is fucking badass. Yes, there are zombies, but there are also young girls trying their damndest to survive in a world that doesn't want them.

This book is just as important as The Hate U Give and Dear Martin. We like to romanticize the past and the old west, but need constant reminders about the ways that things haven't changed at all. It's an examination of America, old and new, and the idea that perhaps humanity is worse than a plague of zombies.

Jane is someone I want to see slay the undead, but someone I also want to see protected above all.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
485 reviews813 followers
December 23, 2022
When the dead rise from the battlefield of Gettysburg, the Civil War is called off and to help fight a new war, the Negro and Native Reeducation Act requires qualified children to attend combat schools to slay the shamblers. That's the synopsis for Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, whose narrator is a mixed race teenager named Jane McKeene. Civil War era zombies? Yes! Black heroine? Yes! Silly Young Adult conventions? No! Annoying patois? Hell no! I made it to page 64 before abandoning this novel, which is squarely aimed at pre-teenagers and commits the one sin I can't forgive in a book: It's boring.

A sample:

While Miss Preston's is housed in an old university, it ain't the same university as where we're going. I don't know how many universities there were before the dead walked, but there must have been a few. The one we're headed to is the kind where doctors learn to cut people open. I guess back in the day, when the dead first rose up, all of those future surgeons were pretty quick to figure out that cutting off the head of a shambler was the way to keep them from rising yet again. Either way, most of the students in that university survived, while the one where we go to school became a bit of a slaughterhouse. Most of those fancy folks were studying philosophy and such, and from what I can tell they made fine shambler chow.

The first 15% of the novel loops around like this. Very flat emotionally. Girl school drama. First person prose that screams "teenager" and "Southerner." I can't stand dialogue where characters incessantly refer to each other by given names. Patois needs be used sparingly and at the third use of ain't I was rolling my eyes. Zombies? Is this book about undead flesh crawlers? Ireland seems to be writing Young Adult first, Civil War revision second and horror somewhere much further down the list. And it's so, so boring. A warning sign for those who aren't heavy Young Adult readers thinking about giving this one a try:

Length: 102,326 words
Profile Image for Helen 2.0.
291 reviews783 followers
December 25, 2019
So.... don't take this personally, Justina, but I may have cut up this novel after reading it and glued it to my wall as wallpaper. If it helps any, the wall looks awesome. I love the fake faded look of the pages.


ANYWAY! Incredible premise. LGBT black girls fighting zombies during the Civil War era. Hell yes?

Dread Nation has great bi representation, great ace representation, great representation in general. It deserves a full five stars in terms of diversity.

However, despite how lovely the characters may be, the plot really falls flat. It was a meandering, aimless mess. Our main character, Jane, spent 99% of the book reacting rather than acting, which to me is a major flaw. I love an active heroine - even in a novel with a strong plot and strong worldbuilding, I need the main character to be making influential decisions and not just following the flow of the story.

Speaking of worldbuilding, Dread Nation needs a little work in that department as well. I understand the challenges of writing an "alternate history" - in this case, in a world where zombies suddenly walked on Civil War battlefields. The author needs to consider how much historical accuracy to weigh against imagination in their world. That balance is well done in this book, but there were some glaring inconsistencies in worldbuilding that were hard to ignore. Moreover, the author kept dropping hints about other settings and aspects of the world (such as the "Lost South") which sounded so much more damn interesting than whatever the hell Jane and Kate were doing at the moment. I kept thinking, Why can't we go there instead? If I'm thinking that every chapter, then that's not a good sign for the plot.

Basically, this author is super creative and her heart is in the right place, but the series could benefit from a stronger outlining process and maybe more intensive content editing to clean up the plot.
Profile Image for Zain.
1,383 reviews140 followers
August 16, 2022
Truly Enlightening!

This story takes place during the aftermath of The Civil War and the Reconstruction Period. However, this is an alternative version of this history.

Even though Jane was born right after the ending of slavery, nonetheless, former slaves are still treated like chattel, and have no rights.

With the dead rising and eating the living, it becomes the “negroes’s” and Native American’s job to protect the white folks from them.

At age fourteen, despite her mother’s objections, Jane is sent away to Miss Preston’s School, where she is taught to be an attendant. That’s a fancy name for a bodyguard.

Surrounded by prejudice, bigotry and racism, Jane, and other Black girls, are trained in self-defense.

All the racial nonsense that’s been used to justify bigotry and oppression are here. Despite this, Jane’s lively narration and intelligent views of the world make this tale of zombies (they call them shamblers), a great and enjoyable read.

Definitely five stars ✨.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,135 reviews309 followers
February 15, 2022
I absolutely loved this book. Of course the alt-history post-civil war era setting tells you that the story will be harsh. It's a zombie book, yes, but the walking dead are just part of the larger landscape of horror that non-whites have to live in.

The relationship between the two main characters, Jane and Katherine, is incredibly well done. They start out barely tolerating each other, but over time they become friends. How that relationship comes about and grows is integral to the story, and the focus on this friendship never wavers during the telling.

My one critique relates to the author's statement about basing the combat schools on the American Indian Boarding Schools, which were the equivalent of native Residential Schools here in Canada. I don't know if the legacy of Residential Schools is as commonly kown and accepted in the US as it is in Canada, where it is seen as a great stain in our country's history, but I didn't feel the representation of the combat schools as analogous to Residential Schools was a good choice.

In Dread Nation there is the feeling that despite the bad of the schools, that the attendees are essentially well treated and are actually getting some good from attending them. In fact, Residential Schools were one of the ultimate tools of colonialism and aimed at the cultural genocide of native people. I don't think any reasonable person would ever imply that there was any benefit at all to native children being put into the Residential School system.

I realize that Ireland's main story centres on the experience of oppression and the legacy of slavery for Black Americans, but it felt like the whole experience of native people was subsumed unfairly into that narrative.

If I hadn't read the author's notes at the end of the book, this wouldn't have bothered me quite as much, but from what I have heard about her, Ireland is one of those authors who feel strongly that Black authors can speak most effectively about the Black experience of oppression. Ironically, I felt that by explicitly modelling the Residential School in her story about Black oppression, she co-opted an equally important story, about which she is not at all well positioned to speak. The consequences of the Residential School system continue to be felt today, and survivors of the system still live with its terrible legacy.

But, all that being said, I had a hard time putting this book down, and it was an emotional ride for me. One of my favourite books of 2018.
Profile Image for shady boots.
500 reviews2,037 followers
April 22, 2018
Originally started as a buddy read with Lola but she wasn't into it so I went ahead and finished it myself. :p

I thought this had a pretty strong start. I was really enjoying it up until around the 40% mark. From then on, my interest sort of waned. I guess its partly due to the whole zombie thing; let's be honest, they're not the most exciting supernatural monsters to read about. Most of the time they're just lumbering, brainless things designed to move the plot forward and provide action scenes. I'm afraid that was still somewhat the case with this book; the author didn't do anything new or interesting with the zombie mythos, they're pretty much the standard ones.

The world of this book besides the zombies wasn't that intriguing either. I felt very uncomfortable reading this book a lot of the time, but that's to be expected. Any fictional media that tackles racism is bound to be very unsettling to read, especially ones that take place in an era of history where slavery and the dehumanization of black people was still in its heyday, as is the case with this book. It's not pleasant to revisit this time period, but it is one that's rarely seen in YA, especially from the point of view of the oppressed, so I have to give kudos to the author for that aspect.

It also highlights that even in a world crawling with zombies, the real vile creatures will always be the same: straight white men. (LMAO I'm totally kidding! 🤣 But seriously, straight white men scare the crap out of me nine times out of ten)

The main reason I stuck around was for the protagonist Jane, who I really liked. She's strong, intelligent, witty and feisty. I really enjoyed her personality, and I also liked her friendship with her companion Katherine. I sort of felt falsely advertised though, because a lot of the buzz from this book came from the fact that it had an aro-ace (aromantic, asexual) main character, but it actually wasn't Jane who was aro-ace but Katherine. I figured I should mention this because I didn't want anyone else getting misconceptions and then get disappointed. Throughout the book, it's pretty clear that Jane exhibited a lot of physical and emotional attraction to a few of the male characters.

Then again, I'm not sure if aro-ace people are still able to experience sexual or emotional attraction, so if anyone more well-versed in the subject, or if any of you actually are aro-ace yourself, then I implore you to educate me on this. I'm always eager to learn more.

I think that's all I wanted to say, really. I enjoyed this book for a while cause I grew attached to Jane, but other than that I wasn't all that invested in anything else. I wanted more queer representation, as the buzz for this book claimed there would be, but alas there was very little of that. The ending was vaguely cliffhanger-ish but I don't think I'd be interested in future sequels personally.
Profile Image for Grace (kanej & evajacks' version) .
239 reviews139 followers
February 10, 2023
An enjoyable read!! 😃 I went in with no expectations, and it surprised me by being super entertaining and action-packed, with some interesting characters! A lot better than I expected 🥰🥰

“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.”

Dread Nation follows Jane McKeene, who was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Pennysylvania, derailing the war between the different States and changing America forever. Now everyone's safety depends on being protected by black/coloured people, who are rounded up and sent to combat schools to learn to put down the dead. Jane is one of such combat schools, training to become an Attendant- a personal bodyguard to protect rich white people. However, her life changes when families around her county begin to go missing and Jane becomes entangled in a dangerous conspiracy...

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

As you can tell from the description, Dread Nation is a dystopian mixed with post-apocalyptic features, with zombies or 'shamblers' being the main focus. Usually I'm not really a big fan of reading about zombies, but I think this book managed to do it pretty well and I still managed to enjoy it!! ☺

There's a lot to like about this book. The characters are well-developed and easy to root for, and following their adventures is very entertaining. We've obviously got our MC Jane, who is a super fierce female lead, and there's also Katherine, another girl at the combat school. I really liked the characters- Jane had a lot of attitude which I liked, and seeing her and Katherine's friendship develop was really cool!! We love strong female friendships in books 🙌

I also liked the writing. It was easy enough to read and I liked how the action scenes were described. I feel like it also suited the setting of the book very well- the characters all spoke with that distinctive Southern drawl, which helped make it feel pretty realistic 😊

I have mixed feelings on the plot tho 😬😬 It was definitely interesting and a lot of intriguing things were happening, but it could be quite slow at times and I didn't really feel that satisfied with the ending. It fell a bit flat after the exciting build-up. However, it wasn't terrible- the direction the book took was an interesting one that I didn't expect when I started it, and I also really liked the messages on racism woven into the narrative. I thought the way the book tackled that topic was done well. So, yeah, definitely pros and cons, but it was pretty good overall 🙂

“But I can't change the past; I can only push headlong into an uncertain future.”

Overall, I did enjoy this and found it to be very entertaining 🥰🥰 I would recommend if you want:

✔ Zombies
✔ Lots of action
✔ Well-developed characters + fierce female lead
✔ Discussions of racism

Pretty good!! I did enjoy it a lot, but I probably won't be picking up the sequel- it just doesn't interest me that much, you know? 🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️

~ 3.5 stars


I did really enjoy this!! 🥰🥰 An action-packed, entertaining story that I would definitely recommend 🙌

Profile Image for Jane.
385 reviews606 followers
January 12, 2019
Wow! Wow! Wow! So much fun! 5 very enthusiastic stars for the audiobook as narrated by Bahni Turpin.

I'd been putting this book off for quite a while and boy, do I regret that! This is the second book I've read in as many months that follows a tough chick in an alternate timeline where something supernatural has altered American history. I'm not sure what that genre is called, but gimme more -- I love it!

In Dread Nation, we're introduced to a world in which the Civil War was interrupted when the dead suddenly started acting decidedly very undead.


We follow Jane, a young woman born just days before the undead appeared, as she studies at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore. Her classes there teach her both fighting and etiquette skills as is required by the Native and Negro Reeducation Act. Most graduates of the school hope to be assigned as an Attendant to one of the rich white women, to act as a bodyguard-cum-chaperone. The alternative often means heading to the front lines to keep the shamblers (zombies/undead) at bay.

Although the shamblers are definitely very present in this story, instead of being the real focus, they act mostly as a vehicle to explain this alternate world and to add a bit of excitement here and there. Don't get me wrong, the battle scenes are definitely tons of fun, but this book has much deeper undertones than that.

It's not difficult at all to draw comparisons between the misguided morality, political shenanigans, and outright unabashed bigoted actions portrayed in this book with what's been increasingly in the public eye over the past few years. In fact, the scariest, tensest scenes in this book have nothing to do with shambler attacks and everything to do with how terribly cruel power-hungry humans can be.

I love the characters Justina Ireland has created here. Jane is snarky and strong, but never falls into the clichéd "quirky talent always saves the day" role. She is definitely flawed, and does not escape her mistakes comeuppance-free. The supporting characters are mostly all very well fleshed out and believable. A couple of characters do, at times, seem a bit like caricatures, but that was very minor, and it's possible it was exacerbated by the narration.

Speaking of the narrator, now I get the Bahni Turpin love (I should never have doubted you, Erica!). Sign me up, I'm sold, and I'm diving into some other books she's narrated in the very near future.

I strongly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a rough-and-tumble action book with a snarky MC. I cannot wait to get my hands on the sequel!
Profile Image for disco.
568 reviews222 followers
June 10, 2020
I am so impressed with this novel. Dread Nation is a mosh posh of all the best things in life: zombies, hardcore heroines, BISEXUALS, and some superb snarkiness. Seriously. I couldn’t put this down. I didn’t want it to end. Every single character matters. Every single line is important. Jane McKeene is a badass lady. She is relatable, smart, strong, and somehow kept her shit together when everything went down.

Something that is worth pointing out is how the chapters begin with bits of correspondence between Jane and her mother. This is so touching and how it relates with what is going on currently, is just so good!

I am also quietly(loudly) shipping Jane + Kate.
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,564 reviews2,312 followers
November 4, 2018
Dread Nation #1 by Justina Ireland is a book I found from the library. I got the audible version. Now, I don't normally read historical fiction even if it is altered and I hate reading books those that have slaves or racism but this book has both! Why I started it I will never know but once I started I couldn't stop. Our main character is a gal born from a rich white plantation last while the Lord of the major had been gone fighting in the Civil War. Our gal came out black and was almost killed by the midwife but saved by your auntie. This is a land of shamblers, we would call them zombies. When she is old enough she is sent to mandatory "Negro" schools to learn to fight them. This is a very exciting and frustrating book. Sometimes I wasn't sure who was really the monsters! I had a love/hate relationship with this book!
The narration was absolutely brilliant! Perfect in every way!
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
July 31, 2018
2.5 stars (an extra 0.5 star for Katherine)

Strong elements outweighed by weak plot.

I wasn’t even going to read it (zombies are so 5 years ago and I am so over them!), but then I saw 6 starred reviews - and succumbed to my curiosity.

Actually, zombies do add an interesting dimension to this post-Civil War alternative history. In this novel, they shift power dynamics away from white supremacy (anyone can fall prey to shamblers, even and especially abusive slave owners, which can level the playing field a little), and this is examined somewhat in the first, strongest IMO, part of the novel.

But then it all is abandoned in favor of a lackluster Wild West story line that cursorily touches on slavery and fully indulges in Bible-thumper/racist white men /brothel madam caricatures, at the same time failing to sufficiently develop the zombie threat. The totally anachronistic voice of the main character doesn't help either.

Still, some things I appreciated - Jane’s complicated relationship with her mother; racial passing; the author’s attempt (weak) to highlight boarding schools for Native children. Not enough to make me want to read the sequel though.
Profile Image for Shaun Hutchinson.
Author 25 books4,642 followers
April 19, 2018
Absolutely stunning. This will absolutely be one of my top 5 favorite books of the year.
Profile Image for Jorie.
285 reviews37 followers
June 9, 2023
An estimated 620,000 lives were lost in the American Civil War, the most fatalities of any conflict in U.S. history. But in the postbellum America of Justina Ireland's Dread Nation, the dead don't rest in peace. From battlegrounds and graveyards, these lost souls rise up as the undead, starved for the flesh of the living.

Fortifications around the most populous cities can only provide so much protection against these zombies, here called "Shamblers". A new institution of servitude is subsequently created in slavery's wake: Freed black Americans are trained to kill Shamblers to bodyguard white families.

Protagonist Jane McKeene is a young black woman undergoing such training at a school for girls in Baltimore. Already, she is a master at killing Shamblers - highly skilled with sword and sickle and the second best shot in her class. But combat isn't the only expectation placed upon the girls; they must train in dress and etiquette to make them more hireable by white ladies. Frankly, Jane doesn't see the point in such matters as table manners and propriety when there are ZOMBIES TRYING TO EAT EVERYONE, and she disregards such lessons completely.

Clearly, she's very smart. And it's not lost on her that it's only black and Native people who become zombie slayers, and always to protect whites. It's not lost on her either that there are no jobs afforded to them that aren't dangerous, servile, or both.

Such is the brilliance of Ireland's work: Her America is literally swarming with zombies, but that horror is nothing compared to the reality of Jane's everyday life as a black woman. For Jane and her peers, simply moving about in the world is perilous, with Shamblers or without. They're always being watched, judged, and followed. The wrong word, outfit, place, or time could cost them their lives, and their freedom is always in jeopardy, always subject to another’s whims.

This horror, this dread, is so effective because it's real. Because we know zombies don't exist, but that racism such as this continues to this day - so prevalent in our current society, it threatens books like Dread Nation's availability to all readers.

The messaging of postbellum injustice and the perceived disposability of non-white bodies is amazing. The other story elements are fine; this is very much an action story, so there is a good amount of slicing and dicing zombies. The non-zombie villains were rather caricaturish - considering the degree of their crimes, they could've been less heavy-handed and still been effective.

Also, for someone as competent as Jane, she got caught unaware A LOT. Some examples:

- (p. 174) "I open the book, but before I get very far there's the unmistakable sound of a gun cocking."
- (p. 208) "The sound of a revolver cocking is deafening next to my ear."
- (p. 296) "The click of a gun's hammer cocking back ain't good news, though. I put my hands up."
- (p. 312) "I'm almost to the saloon when I hear the unmistakable sound of a gun cocking."

Storywise, this makes for an exciting turn of events and encourages reading on to see what will happen to Jane next - rather like the cliffhangers of the newspaper serials she loves so much, but it's a little silly how frequently it happens.

Regardless, I like Jane very much 💕 She's stubborn, charming, and a little dense - perfect traits for a protagonist. Katherine's character, being insightful and refined, is the perfect complement to her. I can't wait to read of their further adventures in the sequel!
Profile Image for Gary.
442 reviews187 followers
May 4, 2018
8.1 out of 10 @ https://1000yearplan.com/2018/05/03/c...

Dystopias are popular settings for YA novels; while most imagine a future where a class of people is oppressed by a system of authoritarian social control, Justina Ireland’s canny new horror western Dread Nation locates its dystopic vision in America’s past. History diverges when the dead start returning en masse, hungry for human flesh, bringing an early end to the Civil War and the institution of slavery – but only in the barest sense. No longer forced to work on plantations, Black Americans are instead conscripted at a young age to train as soldiers to battle the “shamblers” (my new favorite euphemism for the walking dead) that are overrunning the country.
Jane McKeene is one such “attendant”-in-training, lucky enough to be receiving her education at the prestigious Miss Preston’s School for Combat in Baltimore in 1880. Her good fortune runs out when she and her class rival Katherine, along with runaway Red Jack, uncover an illegal scheme by the city’s mayor and are shipped off to Summerland – a frontier enclave in Kansas that promises to restore white Christian supremacy to America and treats its Black and Native American militia little better than chuck for the meat grinder.
Many of the story elements that make dystopian YA fiction popular are also staples of the western genre – love triangles between characters from different classes, lone heroes standing up to injustice, landscapes defined by violence and industrial transformation – so the familiar elements are a comfortable fit in Ireland’s reformulation. The classic western narrative, though, depicts the westward march as an act of heroic advancement, a taming of the “wild” frontier for the benefit of civilization. Dread Nation may offer an alternative history of the west, but its depiction of institutionalized racism and classism – where marginalized peoples are forced into a perpetual fight for survival amidst the stampede of “progress” – is little changed by the disruptive insertion of the shambler hordes.
Dread Nation’s genre-hybrid premise functions seamlessly on every level – as western, horror, YA, and alt-history (a toss-off General Custer joke is my favorite laugh-out-loud moment in the book). Jane is a fantastic protagonist, a trickster-like woman-at-arms who is loyal to her ideals and to the people she cares about above any nation or creed. Her budding friendship with Katherine (herself an excellent subversion of the “tragic mulatto” stereotype) is the most affecting relationship in the story. Of all the praiseworthy facets of Dread Nation, my favorite is how its episodic, cliffhanger structure – full of foot-dangling dangers and feats of boldness and bravado – parallels the classic (and historically, often woman-centered) newspaper serials Jane loves to read. Perhaps it will find a natural home as an adaptation for one of the online streaming services, whichever is gutsy enough to do it justice.
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone (on hiatus).
1,501 reviews201 followers
November 1, 2021

Well I really enjoyed this book. It is seriously begging to be made into an action blockbuster movie.

The book is set in an alternate post Civil War USA where slavery is no longer legal but racism is still running rampant, along with hordes of zombies. I think Jane is an excellent main protagonist and I really love the relationship she has with Kate (That’s not my name, it’s Katherine). It’s so great to see strong friendships develop between intelligent and confident women. Jane has such a no-nonsense approach to survival and her action scenes are epic. The zombies whilst well written and ever present are not the real monsters in this book. It’s in the holiest of places that you will find the demons in this book.

I am going to leave this review here and let Justina Ireland’s own words tell you her thoughts about her brilliant book:

“Dread Nation is a book about the American Dream, and how that dream only truly exists for a small subset of the country. It’s about who gets to lay claim to their humanity, and who is seen as little more than a tool that can be used to achieve the goals of others. It’s about loving a place that doesn’t love you back, no matter how much you might be willing to bleed and die for it. It’s about understanding that, maybe, the things we’re told and the things other people believe aren’t enough to keep us safe. We can follow the rules and do the right thing, but at the end of the day life isn’t fair for anyone. And for some of us, an equal chance was never even an option.” - Justina Ireland in Black Girl Nerds
Source: https://blackgirlnerds.com/zombies-an...

Come for the zombies, stay for Jane!
A must read.
July 24, 2021
4.5 shamblers

This was one of my most anticipated books for spring from the moment I heard of it and laid eyes on that cover. I have no idea what struck this chord other then I love history and figured this alternate derailment (from the current one) will be epic. A dystopian setting in the past versus the future as in most YA novels. BAM…a dystopian, YA, alternate historical fiction genre has been created. And I am all for it!

The setting for Dread Nation begins during the Civil War years. Jane McKeene is attending Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, funded by Congress after the Negro and Native Reeducation Act was put in place. After the Great Discord, the US Army needs more help to provide protection of privileged families and citizens from shamblers (zombies), and these schools will put forth the help and aid needed.

McKeene is top at her class. She is smart, sassy and badass. At a local lecture she is attending, the professor want to try out a new medical procedure that will put other innocent people in harm’s way. She cleverly sees through the procedure and is able to save some important people attending. This earns her the spotlight and job to be an ‘attendant’ to an upper class couple. An opportunity many girls in her place strive for to receive.

But McKeene is also missing her family. Mostly her mother. At the beginning of each chapter there is a personal letter or note she or her mother writes…..and NEVER receives. This is part of an awful plot that takes her and some others from the school out West to a town called Summerland, Kansas. A town where Negros live on one side of town and the privileged higher society on the other. Lead by a strong Christian supremacist leader who preaches that Summerland has been created according to the Lords will, there are sinister, dark things going on in and around town. Are the shamblers alone the danger of town? Well, McKeene is in to find out the hard way.


First of all, this book was ENTERTAINING! I am the least person to read anything involving horror. I am horrified of horror!!! I don’t like anything zombies either….and yet, this worked so well for me. I really liked it.

This book traveled with me across the States from coast to coast. And despite all the things I hear and read surrounding the novel, I am fond of it. It is YA, so keep that in mind. It isn’t a in depth fantasy, but rather lighthearted, pulse raising and entertaining. Perhaps a lighter fantasy you may say. I definitely recommend it for that. Facts from fiction…it is fantasy. Something different and new. I recommend.

For more reviews and blog posts check out: https://scarlettreadzandrunz.com/
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