Dread Nation by Justina Ireland was one of my favorite reads of 2018. It had a good blend of altered history, diversity, and kickass female characters. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the sequel, Deathless Divide, but unfortunately, I feel a bit more divided about this one.
**Deathless Divide is a sequel so there may be slight spoilers below for book one. Check out my review for Dread Nation instead.**
After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hopes her life becomes simpler. But when it comes to the undead, nothing is simple. Reeling from a devastating loss, Jane finds shelter in Nicodemus, a nearby protected village, with her newest friend, Katherine Deveraux. But Nicodemus isn’t as safe as it seems and what transpires sets Jane off on a path for blood lust and vengeance. It’s up to Katherine to watch Jane’s back and keep up hope, even when it seems like there will never be a happily-ever-after for girls like Katherine and Jane.
Even though I usually hate zombie stories, the concept of this series is awesome. I love the historical context right alongside the depictions of the undead. My problem with this book, however, is the pacing. It was slow and Deathless Divide is long. The first half of the book picks up where Dread Nation left off, but not a lot happens other than to set up for the second half of the book, which takes place over a year later. This split and time jump makes the story disjointed, like it should be two books (a trilogy total) instead.
The time jump also makes certain reveals and events of the story come across pointless. Ireland doesn’t hold back on killing characters, but sometimes their deaths didn’t make a difference or something about a character would be revealed and nothing else happened related to those secrets.
I also had issue with the main character, Jane. She’s completely different in this book. I understand she goes through a lot of trauma and that can shape a person into becoming something else. But Jane falls far from who she was, and it’s not easy to read. There never comes a moment where she truly turns away from wanting vengeance for what happened, and she never allows anybody else to help her heal.
There are also aspects of the book that feel a little too modern and seem to be added to fit some kind of diversity standard for publication. Characters are very accepting of certain lifestyles, which I don’t think fits historically. The author doesn’t point out in her author note anything about her research about it, so it makes me wonder what is historically accurate to the time.
The shining light of the book, however, is the second main character and narrator, Katherine. In book one, she becomes Jane’s ally, but in this book she becomes central to the story. Katherine is what kept me reading. She carries the story forward on her petticoats and corsets, and I’m convinced she, not Jane, is the hero. You want to read a book about a badass person of color who does whatever she needs to help her friend? That’s Katherine. She doesn’t back down, she shows up when Jane needs her most, and she stays true to herself. We need more female characters like Katherine.
(Also, can we give a shout out to the covers? They are fabulous.)
For the most part, though, I enjoyed the story. I thought it was little too long in certain places and the ending left me wanting something more. But I like how the author brings people of color back into history, especially in this time period. African-Americans were a large influence on the Old West, which isn’t often depicted. Books like this give voice to those who have been forgotten or purposefully removed from history. Throwing in the undead just makes things a little more interesting.