I know I said in Thursday’s Post that I wasn’t going to be reading any books for YALC this year until I had greatly reduced the amount of unread books that I bought at YALC last year, but I already owned this book before the author list was announced.
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
I loved this book and thought it was both a wonderful read that is worthy of its praise as a historical fantasy novel and as a book that explores race and identity. Recently while trying to diversify my bookshelf both in terms of authors and characters I have found that books tend to be very thematically interesting while lacking a good story and characters or very shallow and face value while containing an interesting story. This book has given me new hope that there can be books that can pare the two together.
Back then people weren’t so worried about education as they were not having their faces eaten by the undead.
Moving onto the story itself, it was amazing. While not the story I was expecting, it was still good nonetheless. This story is a lot more of a mystery novel with zombies than the undead dystopia than I was expecting, but I think this strengthen the plot as I was left with no idea what was going to happen next given that I was thinking in the wrong story line. I do think though that if this hadn’t been the case the story might have been guessable to someone well read in the mystery genre.
This story is divided into two parts, The Civilized East and The Cruel West . The first half of the book is very much devoted to worldbuilding and character development so by the time the main plot starts in the second half we are comfortable with both out heros and villans. However the The Civilized East is not a hardship to read as there are many small challenges for our characters to overcome that is clear will impact the main plot in a major way. Although this book has unusual pacing, the way the story is written means that while reading it, there seems to be a perfect amount of time spent to each thing; nothing feels rushed or dragged out. It is only on further reflection that the one sided story structure occurs.
Maintain your balance; lose your footing, lose your life.
The characters in this story have rich and complex backstories that are often explored. Within this comes the trials and tribulations of being black in post civil war America. While the characters are no long slaves, they face a systematic racism and sexism that they often challenge and fight against in an everyday way. While the character’s main motivations are not being eaten by zombies, they also work tirelessly to not only break down the stereotypes of the time but to also use the system against the rich white men who try to make them feel inferior.
*Slight spoilers but also a warning about some possibly sensitive content*
This book has a number of lighter skinned black characters live as white people for different amounts of time. The book them explores how this impacts on their identity and how they see and treat others. As a white woman I do not wish to say if this issue is sensitive or not, but feel that I should mention it incase it is.