When I started listening to the audiobook version of Dread Nation, I found myself wanting to talk about it with others, but I had no idea how to describe this unique book. Historical fiction with zombie twist and post-Civil War post-Apocalypse were the best I could come up with, but I have since discovered the category of alternative history, which does much more justice to this title.
Jane McKeene is in her final year at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore where she was sent at the age of 12 as required by the Native and Negro Reeducation Act, established after the undead rose up and began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and requiring that Black and Indigenous children be removed from their homes and trained as zombie killers. Because she is biracial, Jane was enrolled in the school despite being the daughter of the wealthy white woman who owns the Rose Hill Plantation. Jane is being trained as an attendant who will serve an affluent woman and use her skills in slaying the undead, the shamblers, as necessary. Her hope, however, is to return to her previous life at Rose Hill.
Jane’s exceptional skill in slaying shamblers draws the attention of the Mayor who invites her to serve at a formal dinner at his home. Jane and her friend Jackson are hoping to take the opportunity to uncover some information about the mysterious disappearance of several local families. Unfortunately, they are caught searching the Mayor’s files and are sent, along with Jane’s classmate Katherine, to Summerland, a walled community run by a racist preacher and his sheriff son. There they must do whatever it takes to survive if they have any hope at all of escaping.
Dread Nation is fast-paced and fascinating, gripping and gruesome. This unique blend of history, social commentary, and the undead raises themes of racism, religion, power, corruption, and gender inequality. Once I started it, I didn’t want to stop listening, and I am anxiously awaiting the sequel.