Why I Love the Dread Nation Series

The day I came squealing and squalling into the world was the first time someone tried to kill me.

That’s the line that begins this series and I fell hook, line and sinker.

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me way too long to jump onto the Dread Nation train. I first saw the cover at the Barnes & Noble I worked at last year but didn’t give much thought to it. It was a stocking shift at 7 in the morning so my brain was caffeine deprived and stupid. Besides, I tend to be late on most hype trains anyway.

I officially picked up this book last year, my steps inadvertently guided by a blog post by P. Djeli Clark, author of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (which I also loved by the way!).

Dread Nation is a fantastic book that centers black people in history. When it comes to most fiction (or history, for that matter) that discusses black people in the antebellum period up to the 20th century, they’re usually brutalized under slavery. Those stories are important to tell but sometimes a girl needs a little variety in her historical fiction. 

The Dread Nation universe is revisionist history. Dead people rise up from the ground in the midst of civil war and disrupt life as people know it. Society has to adapt to meet this undead threat. Slavery, as a formal institution, started to fall in place and was replaced with new schools to train black and Indian children to fight against the dead. Most of these children are taken away from their homes when they are around 12 years of age. Girls are raised as Attendants to protect white ladies against the dead and also protect their honor in these trying times.

Jane McKeene is one of these ladies who attends Miss Preston’s school in Baltimore. She hopes to pave her own future with the skills learned at Miss Preston’s and make her way back home to her mother and Aunt Aggie at the Rose Hill plantation. But then the good families in Baltimore start disappearing and things go sour fast and the characters travel Westward Ho!

I won’t spoil too much from the first book. You desperately need to read it for yourself. It has racial commentary, drama, and thrills tied in a nice western package. It immediately takes you into the world of these characters. It’s amazing seriously.

Deathless Divide expands on the story of the first and adds multiple layers of depth to it. There’s the value of friendship in a world that you’re just trying to survive, the follies of science, hubris, and tales of vengeance as the story more fully embraces the westerns the story gives homage to. It still has all the bloody horror and grotesque zombies wondering around but they’re less of a threat sometimes with the things that humans do to each other. 

I can’t express how much I love this series. Please read it.