Deathless Divide is the second book in the Dread Nation duology, a historical fiction series set shortly after the American civil war. The war ended due to the fallen soldiers on both sides returning to the field of battle as zombies. The confederate states were overrun and became known as the ‘Lost States’, while in the North, the emancipation of slavery happened. In return, they and Native Americans are required to train in zombie fighting schools, to protect the rich white people who have political power. Our tale follows one young Jane McKeene, a young bisexual woman during her time at Miss Preston’s School of Combat and her misadventures thereafter. For my thoughts on the first book in this duology, click here.
The second book, Deathless Divide, starts immediately after the end of the first book, with our not-so-merry band of heroes fleeing the fallen Summerland. Upon arriving at the nearby Nicodemus we see that the town is not all that Jackson promised it to be, and the problems only get worse from there.
What I first noticed as interesting about this book, was not that it is now told from two points of view, that of Jane and Katherine, but that their epigraphs came from different places. Jane’s all come from works of Shakespeare, while Katherine’s are biblical. These little details show how well written these characters are. Oftentimes, one spends a lot of their chapter contemplating the other, analysing them and providing a much deeper understanding than that character themselves would likely provide. For, who takes the time to acknowledge your smallest quirks than a concerned friend, when you yourself are lost in the depth of your emotions?
Like the first book, this one is split into two parts. The first shows us what we now accept to be the status quo, while the second is an upheaval of that with a reminder of how cruel and unjust the world can be. Part two of this book ‘The Road to Perdition’ sees our two protagonists separated for a year and a half after the ending of part one. It is at this moment, that the plot is at it’s weakest as the need for the story to reunite them to have any sense of closure means that there is little suspense in this part of the book. We do get a wider exploration of the world here, that not only gives it more depth to the readers, also changes the characters quite substantially. However, it did pull me out of the story a little, as the predictability of the events reminded me that I was reading a young adult book. I think that it would have been possible for the characters to see more of the world without having such a forced separation, either by not separating them for quite so long or not reuniting them.
The premise of this book means that diversity and representation is a key talking point. As previously stated, both of our point of view characters are African-American as are many of the other secondary and background characters. A variety of skin tones are described and how societies preference for lighter skin affects all people is explored in both how it gives some people more privileges and how that affects them and the people around them. Native Americans also appear in this book, but there are not a lot of them in this book. However, the erasion of their culture and people are often talked about, in a way that emphasises their systematic lack of presence as a feature of American history and not an oversight of the author.
LGBTQ+ diversity is also mentioned often in this book; Jane is bisexual, while Katherine is asexual. With both of these characters being the points of view for this story, a more constant representation is there for these sexual orientations. There are more casual mentions of f/f and m/m romances throughout the book without the sexualities of these characters being known as they are not relevant to the plot but help colour in the world.
I thought that this book was a fantastic read and would highly recommend it to people who enjoy the idea of competent zombie killing and or enjoy historical fiction.