Margin Notes

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Jul
10

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.

 

DEATHLESS DIVIDE BY JUSTINA IRELAND

Jul
13

The long awaited and much anticipated sequel to Dread NationDeathless Divide by Justina Ireland does not disappoint. The continuation of this historical fiction with zombie twist and post-Civil War post-Apocalypse (as described in a July 2019 MarginNotes post by Jill Davidson) saga picks up where Dread Nation concluded.  Jane McKeene, her classmate Katherine Devereaux, and Jane’s past love Jackson have fled Summerland along with a rag-tag ensemble of characters in hopes of escaping the undead hordes by finding shelter and safety in Nicodemus.  Because Nicodemus is a fortified town founded by freed slaves and Quakers, they also hope to escape the racial inequality and cruelty they experienced in Summerland. Unfortunately, the road to Nicodemus is paved with danger and heartache for Jane and her companions.   

While the dangers and racial intolerance of Summerland follow Jane and Katherine to Nicodemusthey begin to forge deep friendship and mutual respect for one anotheras they continue to battle shamblersinjustice and unlikely foes until they are torn apart by tragedy. Jane and Katherine both continue west eventually making their way to California. One as a bounty hunter with a legendary reputation and the other working as security on a passenger steamship. Katherine continues to be driven by a chance of a better life in San Francisco and later in Haven, a small mountain town, and Jane by a deep-seated need for revenge against someone she thought was an ally and friend.  

Deathless Divide, like its predecessor, Dread Nation, continues the fast-paced and fascinating tale.  The unlikely blend of history, social commentary, and the undead continues the themes of racism, power, greed, and gender inequality. Once I started it, I did not want to stop listening and when finished, I could not stop thinking about the characters and what might come next.

THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE BY RUTA SEPETYS

May
18

Author Ruta Sepetys, well known for historical fiction novels such as, Salt to the SeaBetween Shades of Gray, and Out of the Easy has once again offered readers a powerful and hauntingly beautiful novel entitled The Fountains of Silence. Set in 1957 post war fascist Spain, 18-year-old American, Daniel Matheson has come with his oil tycoon parents to Madrid.  His father’s company has hopes of inking an oil deal with dictator Franco, while Daniel hopes to learn more about his mother’s birth country, Spain, through his passion for photography. 

As a child of privilege Daniel is soon learns that not all Spaniards enjoy a comfortable and secure lifestyle.   Ana, an employee of the hotel at which Daniel is staying, and the young daughter of teachers who sided against Franco during the Spanish Civil War, slowly introduces to him another Spain. A Spain that encompasses hardship, hunger, and fear.  Fear of the Guardia Civil (Franco’s military force), fear of landowners, and fear of one’s neighbors. Daniel soon realizesSpain, its institutions, and its residents have many secrets. 

 Sepetys masterfully and slowly begins to peal back the layers of the secretthrough the short and fast paced chapters narrated by multiple characters.  Each narrator powerfully begins to shed light on the dark corners of Spain in eye opening detail. In addition, to the prose, Sepetys weaves primary sources throughout the story at the end of each chapter to provide a greater depth and context to a time in history previously unrealized by many western nations. 

 

The Fountains of Silence like other novels by Sepetys, explores heartbreak, love, and the lasting repercussions of hate and war. Once I began this novel, I was immediately invested in the characters and their journey. I didn’t want the story to end.