Authors: Justina Ireland
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
American release date: December 1, 2020
Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/Young Adult Zombie Fiction/464 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★
Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes
Jane McKeene is her mama’s dirty little secret. Born to a white plantation owner, Jane is undoubtedly of African-American descent. Even so, she knows her mother loves her, and does the best that she can to raise her right. The course of Jane’s life is changed forever when the dead begin to rise on the battlefields of Gettysburg. Jefferson Davis’ Confederacy capitulates to the North due to the necessity of having to fight the growing numbers of undead, which they cannot do on their own. Even so, the battle is an arduous one, and some Southern States have been given up as long causes, simply referred to as the Lost States.
Under the auspices of the Negro and Native Reeducation Act, certain children are sent to schools to learn to combat the dead. Jane is one of these, having been sent to Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore. Jane is really good at what she does, and she can surely swing a mean scythe, but she misses her mama, and writes her often. But she hasn’t heard from her in a while, and Jane is concerned.
Jane is a very independent soul, and very strong-minded. Despite the fact that slavery is now illegal, blacks are still treated with a great degree of condescension. Definitely second-class citizens. The best Jane can hope for is to become an Attendant to some fine white lady (read paid but still a slave in all but name). She dreams of the time when she can leave the school and return to her home in Rose Hill, in Kentucky. Jane has friends at the school, but Katherine is not one of them. Katherine is so fair, she could easily pass, and she is beautiful, and she knows it. She and Jane are like oil and water.
Jane has a past relationship with a young man named Jackson. Their relationship didn’t exactly end well, and yet they maintain a tenuous sort of friendship, somewhat out of necessity. Jackson is easy on the eyes, and he operates outside of the law, and you know how women like their bad boys. Jackson gets Jane and Katherine embroiled in a scenario which ends up with all of them being sent West to a place called Summerland. Supposedly this is a haven for people to be safe against the growing hordes of dead.
But Jane quickly discovers she has just been sent to a place that is more Hell than Heaven.
I found this book riveting from beginning to end. Jane McKeene is an amazingly awesome heroine, strong and gutsy and just plain likeable. The story is told in a compelling First Person present tense narrative that will pull you in. This alternate Civil Way history with zombies is imaginative and fascinating. I thought it very sad that although slavery was illegal, the entitled white people still found a way to keep the blacks down. I found it hard not to draw parallels between then and present day America, and maybe that was the point.
The relationship between Jane and Katherine is priceless, going from enemies to friends. And in Summerland, I think Jane may have found a potential lover. Only time will tell. There are some great characters, some you’ll love, and some you will equally loathe.
The really good news is there is a sequel, and I can’t wait to read it. Although marked as High School, I think this is an enjoyable series for all ages.. Can’t wait to read the next book.