Book Review: Dread Nation

dread nationDread Nation
by Justina Ireland
YA Fantasy (Alternate History)
454 pages
Published April 2018

So, as a general rule, I don’t read zombie stories. Zombies are the one monster that will almost invariably give me nightmares. This book, however, had such hype built up around it that I decided to bend my rule.

I should not have.

Before I start in on this, let me say it’s a good story. It’s well-written, the plot is paced nicely, and it’s entertaining. All that said, it’s quite problematic in many ways. I knew some of this before I read it; there was a Twitter thread about some of the issues, namely that in the Author’s Note she describes the Native American boarding schools (where the government forced Native American children to go, and tried to destroy their heritage and culture in the name of “civilizing” them) as “well-meaning.” The Twitter thread does an excellent job of dissecting that passage, and it’s worth reading.

There’s also the incredibly unrealistic scene where Jane gets flogged eleven times, walks back to where she’s staying, has a coherent conversation where she lays out a plan she has formed, and then puts a shirt on. That last part especially got me. Like, what? You’re going to be in more pain than that! Being flogged barely seems to slow Jane down. She asks for laudanum – for her plan. Not to take for the pain.

I don’t know. There’s a lot about the book that set my teeth on edge. There’s the absurd amount of racism, but the protagonist is a black woman and it’s civil war era, so that’s to be expected. And it’s coming from characters, not from narration. Jane lies. A lot. So it’s hard to trust that she’s even a reliable narrator.

I guess it’s okay. I didn’t care for it. I found it really hard to get past the author’s “well-meaning” comment about the Native American boarding schools. And the plot of “as soon as they’re old enough, black children get sent to combat schools.” Especially with what’s going on lately with the jailing of migrant children, it feels tone-deaf, ignorant, and genocidal.

One good point was the oh-so-casual mention of bisexuality (a female friend taught her “everything she knows about kissing”) but it was only two sentences and never mentioned again. Not nearly enough to make up for the rest of the book.

From the cover of Dread Nation:

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.

Book Review: Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

aliceAlice in Zombieland
by Gena Showalter
404 pages
Published 2012
Urban Fantasy

This was an interesting re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland. In Alice in Zombieland, Alice Bell’s life has always been curtailed by her father’s insistence that monsters exist. The family cannot leave the house after dark, she’s been taught how to fight hand-to-hand and with a couple of weapons, and they never – NEVER – drive past the graveyard. All of this changes in one night – when Alice “falls down the rabbit hole” as it were – and discovers her father wasn’t insane after all.

Now, living with her grandparents, haunted by visions of her little sister and glimpses of monsters in the dark, Alice – or Ali, as she insists on being called – finds herself being called on to fight the monsters alongside the roughest crowd in her high school. Falling in love with the leader of the bad boys doesn’t help her social life, but might help her stay alive.

I enjoyed this book and will probably pick up the sequel, Through the Zombie Glass, if I can find it at the library. The writing flowed well most of the time, and while Alice began a little whiny, by the end of the book she was pretty bad ass. It felt…. a little more “young adult” than some young adult books I’ve read; the emotions seemed detached or damped down a bit. While she was dealing with grief over the loss of her family, and possible death at the hands of zombies, it just didn’t feel as raw as I think those emotions should have felt. And the notion of a bunch of high school kids fighting zombies – with the support of adults, including the high school principal – was a little weird. Still an interesting book, and not a waste of time, but it felt a lot like “teenagers are special snowflakes!”

From the back of Alice in Zombieland:

SHE WON’T REST UNTIL SHE’S SENT EVERY WALKING CORPSE BACK TO ITS GRAVE. FOREVER.

Had anyone told Alice Bell that her entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, she would have laughed. From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined? Please. But that’s all it took. One heartbeat. A blink, a breath, a second, and everything she knew and loved was gone. Her father was right. The monsters are real. To avenge her family, Ali must learn to fight the undead. To survive, she must learn to trust the baddest of the bad boys, Cole Holland. But Cole has secrets of his own, and if Ali isn’t careful, those secrets might just prove to be more dangerous than the zombies.

Book Review: Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander

nightshiftedNightshifted
by Cassie Alexander
341 pages
Published 2012
Urban Fantasy

Nightshifted in most ways is your typical urban fantasy book. It’s got the hidden supernatural world that most mortals don’t know about, with one mortal drawn in who must flounder her way around among vampires, shapeshifters, weres, zombies, and more. This one has a bit of an interesting twist to it, however. In most urban fantasy books, there’s some sort of hidden hospital, usually with a supernatural that was a doctor before they were turned to whatever flavor of supernatural they now are. In Nightshifted, that hidden hospital is Y4. Y4 is the bottom, hidden level of County Hospital. Here regular, mortal nurses take care of supernatural patients. One of those nurses is Edie Spence. She was offered the job by a mysterious, shadowy man, that told her if she took it, they’d make sure her junkie brother got clean, and stayed clean. Now she has a name badge that glows when something funky is going on, patients that sometimes require a tranq rifle, and a whole heap of troubles.

In Nightshifted, the first in the series, Edie accidentally leaves one arm of a patient unrestrained. In his delirium, he yanks out a vital tube and dies. The last thing he’d told her was “Save Anna.” Not knowing whether she’s under a Compulsion or doing it of her own free will, Edie sets out to find the mysterious Anna. She does eventually find her and kills one of the vampires holding her before they escape. The vampires decide she’s going to pay for that, and haul her in to a trial to decide her guilt and sentence. But Anna is more than she seems, and bringing Edie to trial may be more trouble than it’s worth…

The next book in the series is Moonshifted, followed by Shapeshifted, and, in December, Deadshifted. Due to the unique viewpoint of these books, I’ll definitely be looking for them.

There’s a tiny romance sub-plot, but it’s very much a SUB-plot and is secondary to the action in every way. Why don’t we get kick-ass, self-sufficient heroines in romance novels?

From the back of Nightshifted:

Nursing school prepared Edie Spence for a lot of things. Burn victims? No problem. Severed limbs? Piece of cake. Vampires? No way in hell. But as the newest nurse on Y4, the secret ward hidden in the bowels of County Hospital, Edie has her hands full with every paranormal patient you can imagine – from vamps and were-things to zombies and beyond…

Edie’s just trying to learn the ropes so she can get through her latest shift unscathed. But when a vampire servant turns to dust under her watch, all hell breaks loose. Now she’s haunted by the man’s dying word – Save Anna – and before she knows it, she’s on a mission to rescue some poor girl from the undead. Which involves crashing a vampire den, falling for a zombie, and fighting for her soul. Grey’s Anatomy was never like this….