Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Book Review: Dread Nation

Title: Dread Nation
Author: Justine Ireland
Series: Dread Nation #1
Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Horror
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

There are a few very disappointing things about Dread Nation; and that's on top of the author's poor attitude and comments on twitter. Let me say this: I do not agree with this author's attitude and comments but this review is about the book and not the author. I will add that I read a library copy of this book and did not give Justina Ireland endorsement or financial support in any way. 

Similar to The Belles
How could zombies during the American civil war and a beauty obsessed society possibly be similar? Let's start with the overall tone of each book. Each one is about being imprisoned and a slave. Whether it's an actual prison, a beautiful locked room or a grubby floor; if you are unable to come and go as you please then you are a prisoner. Both books are really about girls who are coping with their reality and trying to change their fate and effect those around them to think the same way and both books are at about the same rating level for me. They are mostly well written but have some major issues that immediately drop them out of the 4 and 5 star realm for me. 

Beaten within Inches of Death
And I'm not just talking about scenes in the book that happen to people. Yes it can be graphic at times but nothing extreme in my opinion. Ireland takes the topic of the civil war and slavery; and beats it into the readers that it's bad. No kidding?! I had no idea! (drips sarcasm)
Is there nothing deeper to discuss about the issue of slavery than that it's bad? I would have thought so. I would have thought that the better message would have been that all people are people (or at least alive people are, aka not the zombies). Instead Ireland comes at the topic by assuming her readers are dumb and need to have the truth of 'slavery is bad' pounded into their brains. Frankly it was not only irritating to read but kind of insulting to think Ireland felt no one knew that slavery is bad. 
As a white girl I'm not going to ever be able to say anything about this topic without offending someone or having my words twisted. But what I will say is this: I am NOT an idiot and I know slavery is bad. It would be nice if writers would write realizing most of their audience consists of (at least) moderately educated people who are not morons and whom deserve respect. So give me the 'slavery is bad' message in a different way. I don't need it spelled out so obviously or as often. Or better yet, don't mention it much at all and let the story make it clear that there is unfair treatment and inequality. If you need an example of how to do this well then go read Hunger Games. We hear about the luxuries of the Capital and the dilapidation of the Districts of course; but we don't need Katniss to remind us every page of her plight. Ireland needs to take notes from Collins. 

Most Arrogant Heroine Ever
Were it not for the uniqueness of the setting, Ireland's good writing and the zombies I'd have given up on reading this long before I was done. The main reason is our lead gal is arguably the most annoying and arrogant heroine in literature. She believes she is better than everyone else and seems to think she is above the law, rules or safeguards. Even when she is injuring and hurting other people with her actions she doesn't seem to care. Yes I know the law, rules, etc. are skewed and wrong (see slavery is bad note above); but for me that doesn't excuse our lead gal for doing things that put others in danger. When you know the group will be punished for your actions maybe you should be a little less selfish about your choices. This is completely lost on our heroine who seems to think that she is the smartest, bestest and most qualified to do anything. 
It is only for a moment near the end of the book when it even occurs to our lead gal that maybe, just maybe, the other blacks are not all useless and are playing a part, waiting for their moment to rebel. Or that not all the whites are okay with the status quo. But a good hunter lies in wait, patiently, for the right moment to reaction. Instead of showing us her character is smart, Ireland has the lead gal make rash, impulsive and selfish decisions constantly. This just made me really hate the lead and her 'no one is as good as me' attitude felt more obnoxious each page I flipped; especially when paired with the constant slavery is bad message.  

Survival Plot and more
Ireland could have made a common mistake with Dread Nation and because she doesn't I think it's worth noting. Surviving is not plot; yet many books seem to rely on it to be plot. Ireland gives us more plot than some readers may know what to do with. For me, I loved this aspect of Dread Nation. From the politics of Survivalists to missing people to why Summerland seems illogical; Ireland gives us a lot to think about. It would have been great if our lead girl had cared more about the plots afoot around her than complaining about how she's a slave and better than anyone else. 

OMG, every boy is so cute!
For a heroine that is as self-serving as our lead gal you'd expect her not to notice the men around her. And yet somehow she manages to have feelings (lust/love) towards every interesting man in every locale except for the (obviously evil) sheriff. There's an attempt at the very beginning of the book to set up instant chemistry between her and a boy that she gets into trouble with that fails miserably. Not only does Ireland tell us about the tension and prior relationship (instead of showing it), she also assumes that her readers are going to eat-up the love story and make it important even when she has downplayed it. In fact when our lead gal is thinking about said man later on I remember being surprised that she was suddenly concerned; given that she didn't seem to give him a second thought for quite some time. Maybe I'm too hopeful but there has got to be a happy medium between: characters that are obsessed in insta-love and characters who only remember about love interests when it serves the purpose of the plot. Oh wait, yet another thing that Hunger Games does well. How about that. ;) 

Overall
This is not a bad book, obviously, as three stars means I am still more or less glad to have read it. But it's not best book of the year quality either. I think a lot of people are drawn into it because Ireland can certainly write compelling and intricate stories; and if that is enough for you then I get why it has so many 5 stars. For me I need more. I would prefer the author didn't explain every nuance and instead let the moments and scenarios speak for themselves. It's just not necessary to spend two pages lecturing about how the blacks are being starved and the rest of the town still has full rations. It could easily have been told in a sentence or two. And it definitely doesn't require a paragraph explanation AND a discussion between characters to tell me. I think a smart editor who can cut out a lot of the 'over-explaining' moments, tone down the 'slavery is bad' message to make it still obvious but more respectful, and focus our heroine on the plot more, than this could be a 5-star book. 
Yet I'll give credit where credit is due; the woman can write very well. However, whether or not I'd buy or recommend one of her books largely depends on her ability to be respectful to everyone, regardless of skin colour, both on and off the written page. 


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