As someone who rarely picks up horror (why would anyone deliberately scare themselves,hm?), I went into Dread Nation virtually blind. The last zombie book I read was Max Brooks’ World War Z, back in 2006. But the premise of Dread Nation kept on calling to me. I love alternative histories, and this book did not disappoint.
Set against the backdrop of the recently-over American Civil War, main character Jane is a member of a school for Black and Native American girls, who are trained up to fight the zombies that first rose up during the war, and haven’t stopped since. There is, refreshingly, no scientific explanation for the rising dead (and the book doesn’t need one to work – though some characters are working on it), and the zombies become sort of secondary antagonists, with the white men of government and rule being the true villains in the novel.
Ireland’s take on zombies is fantastic – there are familiar tropes (such as that person who doesn’t tell the group they’ve been bitten), and new spins on existing ideas that are completely chilling. The ‘shamblers’ in Dread Nation don’t just moan and stumble toward you – these are zombies that can run, and – horrifyingly – think. If you’re a fan of an enemies-to-friendship trope, you’ll be richly rewarded with Jane and Katherine, whose grudging truce feels very natural. And if you’re looking for LGBTQA rep, you have also come to the right book. Almost the entire main cast are people of colour, and race and racism is a key theme throughout the book – including making up part of a twist that left me reeling, and with more questions than answers. I am very much looking forward to the next installment in this series.