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Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that should absolutely be put at the top of your TBR pile. Recommended books will vary across genre and age category and include shiny new books, older books you may have missed, and some classics I suggest finally getting around to. Make space for another pile of books on your floor because here we go!
Today’s pick is by a former Book Rioter and it quickly became one of my favorite science fiction/fantasy titles that has been published in the past few years. It is my go-to recommendation for fans of Young Adult SFF, fans of zombies, and fans of badass female characters.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
The premise is that during the U.S. Civil war after the battle of Gettysburg (so, 1863), all the dead on the battlefield rose up and started walking. The war stopped abruptly so that everyone could focus their attention on dealing with zombies. Why did the dead start walking? It is unknown. The enslaved Black folks were “freed” and then commissioned as zombie-fighters. I keep writing “zombies” but the zombies aren’t called zombies in this story. Instead, they are known as shamblers. Fresh shamblers can move as fast as a living person and it is terrifying.
Our dashing, smartass, amazing protagonist is one Miss Jane McKeene, a Black teen. The story is that her mother was the plantation owner’s wife and her father was a field hand. Against her mother’s wishes, when Jane was 14, she went with the other Black children to go to a combat school, where she would be trained to fight shamblers. Once she graduates, the hope is that she would be hired as an attendant to protect the wealthy white women from shamblers as well as protecting the affluent white women’s virtue.
After the prologue, the story begins just outside of Baltimore at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls where we meet Jane doing drills with the scythe (we learn that it is not Jane’s favorite weapon. She prefers the sickles). We also meet Katherine Deveraux, one of the other girls at Miss Preston’s. Katherine is Jane’s nemesis, and they’ve butted heads since they first met. Katherine is so light skinned she could pass for white. She is also beautiful and great with a rifle.
The girls are all taken to the university to hear a lecture from a scientist who claims to have created a vaccine. There’s a demonstration.
It does not go well and it is all downhill from there.
This book is full of so much action and is an absolute page-turner, not to mention that there are some lines of dialogue that pulled real laughter from my chest. I even bought a copy for my dad and he loved it just as much. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is clever and fun and a must for your TBR. While you’re there, add Deathless Divide, the sequel to Dread Nation.
That’s it for now, book-lovers!
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