Book Review & Aesthetic: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

4 compelling, zombie fighting, alternate history stars!

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Diversity Representation: Black cast, indigenous rep (critiqued & engaged by author), BIPOC author, bisexual rep, ace/aro rep (possibly)

Content Warnings: Medical testing on Black folk, racism, colourism, racial slurs, sexism, slavery, child abuse recounted, sexual assault, forced use of medication, blood & gore depiction, death of a friend, torture, gun violence, war themes & military violence

Dread Nation was definitely a book that drew me in immediately! Which was a little surprising to me, because I don’t usually like anything to do with the whole idea of zombies. But this book packs so many punches that it was impossible for me not to be enthralled.

It all sounded very glamorous, although the idea of tossing up my skirts for pay struck me as being even more laborious than killing the dead.

This book starts out with our protagonist, Jane, in a combat school for Black girls. It is set soon after the Civil War ended, and the dead started to rise. Which means outright slavery has been outlawed, but, true to history, that does not mean that Black folks are allowed many rights, or much of a choice in what they are able to do. In this reality, Black folk are groomed to be badass zombie fighting body guards.

Wow! What a concept. Justina Ireland really gets the mood absolutely perfect. The entire time reading this book it was just a stark reminder that slavery didn’t end just because the Civil War ended. I mean, do any of the characters have any say in really anything in their lives? Of course not. The characters are forced to do whatever the white man tells them to do. They’re plagued not only by zombies shamblers, but with intense racism the entire book.

See, the problem in this world ain’t sinners, or even the dead. It is men who will step on anyone who stands in the way of their pursuit of power. Luckily there will always be people like me to stop them.

What I loved most about this book was just how many small jabs Ireland took at so many problems that we see today or in our history. Or big concepts that plague us still. Let’s go over a few examples so you can see what I mean! (read these at your own digression, as they are small spoilers of course) Jane refers to killing shamblers as ‘harvesting,’ because they are dead. Of course black folk are the ones who are doing nearly all of the harvesting in this world. They test and force the vaccination to prevent the turn of people into shamblers on Black folks only. Using religion to justify slavery. Singing on the way to patrol, or on the way to harvesting shamblers. Measuring the size of someone’s skull to judge someone’s race. Eeek.

With all of that, this book felt really smart and compelling. Though the characters were young, it was definitely a compelling read for older readers. I think Justina Ireland really appeals to quite a wide audience in here! I was definitely impressed, and had a lot of fun reading this. I definitely recommend for anyone who likes alternate histories, zombies, steampunky vibes, or just some badass Black women.

It seems strange that in these very fraught times folks would be more concerned about hardworking people trying to find a better life than the monsters that actually want to eat them.

The only thing I was hesitant about was that I was not drawn into the characters as much as I usually am. I am always drawn to having feelings towards the characters, but for some reason I cared way more about the world than the characters in this one. It definitely felt a bit unusual for me, but the world was so compelling that it didn’t matter much, besides being a different experience for me!


I got such a positive reaction last time about the mood board / aesthetic board for my review of The Dead and the Dark (by the way, check it out!) that I decided to keep them coming! May I present you with drumroll please…. an aesthetic board for Dread Nation!!

Aesthetics board inspired by Dread Nation by Justina Ireland to accompany my review!

Big Takeaway

Dread Nation was an incredibly compelling read with young characters but definitely appeals to a much wider audience. Justina Ireland delivers a brilliant novel that tackles so many world issues that you will want to truly pay attention. I absolutely cannot wait to read the sequel to see more of this horrifying world.

About the Author

Justina Ireland is the author of Dread Nation (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins), a New York Times bestseller as well as the sequel Deathless Divide. Her earlier works include the fantasy young adult novels Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows (both Simon and Schuster).

Justina also writes for the Star Wars franchise, including the books Lando’s Luck, Spark of the Resistance, and the upcoming A Test of Courage, part of the High Republic publishing initiative.

She is the former co-editor in chief of FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, for which she won a World Fantasy Award. She holds a BA from Armstrong Atlantic University and an MFA from Hamline University.

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Have you read Dread Nation? Are you a fan of zombies or alternate histories? Let me know!

Thinking about reading this book, but not right now? Pin this post as a reminder!

Do you want to save my mood board to look at later? There’s a pin for that too!