Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead rose up from the battlefield at Gettysburg and began to stalk the fields and forests of our reeling nation.  Two days before the War Between the States became the War Against the Dead.  The South was lost, overrun by shamblers, horses all but vanished, and the survivors in the East live in fortified towns and cities, protected by walls and citizen soldiers trained to put down the dead.  Citizens like Jane, forcibly sent to combat training schools as children with the passing of the Negro and Native Reeducation Act.

Over a decade after Rising Day, the cities in the East have been declared mostly free and safe of the undead, but there is still a need to keep the living safe, especially when travelling.  A student at one of the best ladies’ combat training schools, Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Maryland, Jane is training to be an Attendant, a companion who will guard her future employer’s life – and virtue, depending on what the situation may call for.  She misses her mama, her Aunt Aggie, and her Kentucky home on Rose Hill plantation something fierce, but, as one of the best in her class, she hopes to have the choice to return and protect her home when she graduates.  Even if she does find herself in more trouble than she ought due to her inability to keep quiet and follow the rules of decorum, Jane’s combat skills are unmatched by any of her classmates.

When whole Baltimore families start disappearing, without a hint as to where they’ve vanished, Jane knows something dirty is happening – there’s no way folks are headed out West without making a peep about it, and a shambler attack could never be mistaken for anything else.  When Jane and her Miss Preston’s archrival, fussy, fashionable, and lovely Katherine Deveraux (do not call her Kate), attend a lecture on a possible cure for the undead plague at a Baltimore university, Jane finds herself an unexpected hero when she is forced to put down a recently turned man, which results in an unwelcome invitation to serve at a dinner hosted by the mayor’s wife.  It does, however, seem like the perfect opportunity to do a little snooping around for answers, which, as usual, lands Jane – and Katherine – in a whole heap of trouble she definitely wasn’t looking for.

Fierce, strong, determined, and awfully handy with a blade, Jane is a girl you’ll totally want on your zombie defense team.  With incredible world-building that weaves in the real history of medical research, the end of slavery and the Reconstruction, westward expansion and Native American boarding schools, and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation has created a very real picture of just what the world might have looked like if the dead had risen up from the battlefield in Gettysburg.  I’m not usually a big zombie fan, but I’m all about historical fiction with a smart twist (plus the buzz on this book was so, so good!), so I’ve had this book on my teetering to-be-read pile for well over a year.  Although part of me wonders why I waited so long to read this reimagined history of a shattered nation, a big part of me is sooooo relieved that now I have way less time to wait for the sequel, Deathless Divide, coming to a library near you in February of 2020!