Just Add Zombies: A Review of Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

I realize that you may be very much tired of zombies by now. Walking Dead is going into its ninth season, Call of Duty has had a zombie mode for about ten years now, and many classic novels regularly assigned in school have been adapted into zombie-filled thrillers. It’s easy to have zombie overload, and question what a new book could add that hasn’t already been done.

Dread Nation is primarily interesting because of the characters involved and where it lies in history. It takes place during the Civil War, and by during I mean that in the most literal sense. The Battle of Gettysburg is raging when the dead begin to rise; the nation is still divided, racial tensions are high, but at the same time the people of the United States need to come to terms with the fact that there is a larger threat to be addressed.

It’s clear that Justina Ireland has done her research about the war as well as average life during that period; it may seem strange to refer to world-building in a historical fiction novel rather than sci-fi or fantasy but she establishes the alternate history of the story very well. Jane, the main character (and an amazingly complex character), is one of many taken to learn how to fight the undead scourge in combat schools alongside many other young Black and Native American people.

The book explores the way that the status quo is still maintained even when a threat of an evil undead looms, and quite a lot of the story is more focused on the nuance and complexities of the society and human interactions in the alternate history than about the zombies themselves.

Dread Nation definitely manages to elevate what I feel has become sort of a stale genre; it’s definitely worth reading, and plan on keeping an eye on Justina Ireland. If this is any indication, she’s an author to watch.


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