YA Weekend Audio: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Series: Book 1 of Dread Nation

Publisher: HarperAudio (April 3, 2018)

Length: 11 hrs and 56 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Bahni Turpin

Dread Nation was my kind of YA. It explores history, politics, social issues, and racial relations. It features strong diverse characters, and a protagonist with one of the most powerful voices and charismatic personalities I’ve ever met. Oh, and it’s also got zombies. But leaving all that aside, I just loved this book, because at the end of the day it was a damn good story.

Set during American Reconstruction Era, Dread Nation stars Jane McKeene, a bi-racial young woman who was born just in time to witness the dead rise up and walk the earth, putting an unexpected halt to the conflict between the North and South. But even though the Civil War has ended, that doesn’t mean Jane is free. Along with the nation’s black and Native children, Jane was sent off to a combat training school as soon as she became of age in order to learn how to fight off the walking dead, known as shamblers. In Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane trained to become an Attendant, someone who fulfills a bodyguard-type role to protect wealthy white citizens.

Jane is told she should be grateful, that this life is better and safer than being on the frontlines fighting toe-to-toe with the shamblers where one bite can mean the end. But merely guarding the well-to-do isn’t good enough for Jane. Secretly, she patrols the countryside at night, protecting the poor and the non-white population as well. This leads her friend Red Jack to approach her one day with a request to help him find his sister, who has gone missing along with several others. Together with Katherine—Jane’s sometimes-friend, sometimes-rival—our intrepid protagonist embarks on a mission to uncover the truth about the disappearances, a dangerous path that would ultimately lead the young women and Jack into the heart of Kansas. There, they become ensnared in a nefarious conspiracy, coming face to face with horrors both undead and human.

Don’t let the inclusion of zombies fool you into thinking that this is a kitschy, tawdry kind of read, because nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, Dread Nation is a very important book which contains some very serious and heavy themes. That’s because the zombies here are not a gimmick; it’s instead an approach used by the author to explore racism and bigotry during this era in American history allegorically. Carefully constructed and deftly written, Dread Nation deals a number of issues that remain relevant today, examining the way society and individuals are affected by social norms and expectations. While her novel may be an alternate history set to a backdrop of an undead apocalypse, Justina Ireland succeeds in showing that, even in a world overrun with hordes of mindless flesh-eating zombies, society is still divided, and her characters continue to live under the effects of prejudice and oppression.

But of course, a good book for me also has to be more than just a message. Here, I’m pleased to say Dread Nation excels as well, delivering a fast-paced narrative that never experiences a lull. While the plot itself is rather simplistic, it’s no less amazing and fun to read because of it, and I truly enjoyed how delightfully fresh and un-formulaic the story felt. The book is divided into two parts, with former focusing on Jane’s life as an Attendant. This is also where a lot of the world-building happens, and here Ireland can be forgiven for a bit of info-dumping, since all of it is so fascinating. The second part of the book deals with Jane, Kate, and Red Jack in Summerland, a small Kansas town run by a bigoted sheriff and a fanatical preacher. The story keeps readers in suspense as our characters must use all their wits and guile to survive this terrible and hateful place, not to mention the frequent scenes of heart-stopping action featuring attacks by the shamblers.

And finally, this book would not have been as brilliant with anyone but Jane McKeene as the protagonist. Her mother is a wealthy white woman who has a complicated relationship with her bi-racial daughter, as revealed by Jane in her narrative as well as snippets from her letters featured at the beginning of each chapter. Jane’s upbringing at her childhood home and later at Miss Preston’s would shape the person she would eventually become—a smart, resolute, and resourceful young woman. I know YA fiction reviewers throw the term “strong female protagonist” around like candy, but Jane is the real deal. Her dialogue and relationship with her “frenemy” Katherine was also a huge part of what made this such a great read. It’s no exaggeration to say the characters made this book for me.

To be honest, I’ve been a bit disheartened by the state of YA fiction lately, so I haven’t been paying as much attention to hyped books (especially to hyped books). For that reason, I hadn’t even heard of Dread Nation until about a couple weeks before its release, so this was a novel that really came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. Needless to say, I’m certainly glad I decided to check it out; I absolutely adored this book, and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Audiobook Comments: I only just finished listening to Bahni Turpin’s fantastic reading of the audiobook for Children of Blood and Bone, which was my experience with her as a narrator, so I could hardly contain my excitement when I found out she was the narrator for Dread Nation as well. In short, Turpin was perfect for this book and for the main character. I could hear her energy and enthusiasm in every single line she delivered, and more than once, I thought to myself, yep, that is absolutely 100% Jane McKeene. What an amazing listen, one that I really can’t recommend highly enough.

22 Comments on “YA Weekend Audio: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland”

  1. I read Dread Nation a few months ago and I thought it was just ok. I had been looking forward to it for some time before I read it so maybe because of my high expectations I didn’t give it a fair shot, idk.

    I did like the analogous way Ireland tackled the race and social issues for the most part but the plot was basically a mess. It just didn’t flow well from the events in Maryland to being sent out west and some parts felt more like random filler than relevant to the plot. I’m generally a fan of longer books but this one could have easily been 100 pages shorter without really losing anything, at least in my opinion.

    The world building wasn’t anything special. I felt like she had the chance to do something truly original here but instead it relies on preconceived notions of the old south and the wild west as depicted in old westerns, just with the addition of zombies.

    With the exception of Jane, I didn’t really think the characters were as well developed as they could have been. Jane’s sass was great, I enjoyed how clearly her personality comes through in the writing but I did find her kind of ‘know-it-all,’ smarter than everyone around her type of attitude a bit grating at times. I was hoping to see something more than just the enemies to friends trope with Jane and Katherine as well.

    Overall, I was a little disappointed with Dread Nation. I expected it to be so much more original than it turned out to be as far as a piece of spec fiction. As commentary on slavery, racism, and social injustice issues I thought it was done well. I’ll most likely pick up the sequel though, as I believe this series will continue to improve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know, you do bring up a good point about the supporting characters. I guess my attention was so focused on Jane and Katherine, I really didn’t get a chance to think about anyone else, and maybe it’s as you said, they were not as well-developed and arguably the villains were also very stereotypical. That’s why I think Jane really made this book for me, it’s almost like her personality was able to make up for everyone else’s because she’s larger than life 🙂

      I also expect that I enjoyed this book a lot more because I didn’t know anything about it, I had somehow missed all the hype so this was a complete surprise!


  2. I’ve heard this is so good. I like that it deals (well) with very real issues but at the same time is an entertaining story. Those two things can sometimes be hard to achieve. Nice to see it was a 5 star read!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s the first time I hear about it but it definitely looks really good that’s for sure! and zombies? I love zombies and it’s been a while since I haven’t read one with them!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve had this on my radar for a while and after reading your review (and a bunch of other positive ones) I’m pretty damn excited to read it. I love when YA authors – or any author for that matter – has been plugging away at writing for a while and finally has a hit on their hands!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Finally a great YA novel after a string of disappointments! I’m very happy you enjoyed this one and your review piqued my curiosity to the point I might overcome my distrust of YA and give this one a chance. See what you made me do??? 😀 .-D 😀
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great review! I’m still reading it and am liking it. It’s a very entertaining book because of Jane’s sass and I like how Ireland mixes in racial and social issues and jabs at conflicts we’re still struggling with today. I’m about halfway through and though I’m enjoying it, I kinda agree with Joelenemarie above regarding character development in minor characters, though I’m still hoping that’ll change before the story’s end.

    I’m with you there regarding YA and hyped books. My problem with YA is that it’s overwhelmingly romance heavy. Even when the book is said to be fantasy, the focus of the story is romance. I like that that’s a bit different in this book.
    Plus, I love zombies and like how Ireland uses them in the story to comment on society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Joelenemarie hit upon a good point with the minor characters, and it just occurred to me that Jane is such a larger than life character that I think her personality eclipses many of the others. The villains are also really cliched, I’ll have to admit. It might have been less obvious because I listened to the audiobook, and a good narrator can sometimes downplay a lot of those kinds of flaws (and she really was good!)


      • I agree there that Jane’s character overshadows the others.
        I’ll keep that in mind about the audiobook for when I’m ready to reread this.


  7. I love your review for this! I’m so excited it lived up to the hype. I’m facing a dilemma, though. I was going to buy a print copy of Children of Blood and Bone this week. I’m thinking I may want to opt for the audios of these now… Decisions, decisions!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Children of Blood and Bone would probably work just as well in print, even though the narrator is wonderful! The cover of that is beautiful too though, so if it were me I’d probably cave and get the hardcover, lol!


  8. I’m also at a loss at the state of hyped YA books nowadays, but this one sounds amazing! Wonderful review! Reading your thoughts on this one really boosted this up my TBR, especially considering I absolutely love deeper themes (like politics and social issues) in younger reads.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  10. It’s funny, because I’m reading a totally different YA fantasy novel right now (Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen), and it’s reminding me of how I’ve been having hit-or-miss luck with that genre right now. So this top-grade review on Dread Nation really caught my eye. It wasn’t on my radar, only because I didn’t know enough about it. But now, my interest is piqued.

    On a related note, I also think it’s great that several of the YA fantasy novels that have come out lately are dealing with themes that are so culturally relevant at the moment.


  11. Pingback: 350. Justina Ireland (a.k.a. The Dreadnought) — Dread Nation (An Interview)

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