320 pages | Titan Books | Historical Fantasy | 11 Hours 56 mins
What if instead of The South rising…the dead did? More than a decade after the zombies or “shamblers” began to roam, Black slaves and Native Americans have been forced from the fields and into battle schools to become protectors or Attendants for whites.
Justina Ireland’s re-imagined history is a unique concept that combines historical fiction with action, adventure and light horror as her battle-tested heroine Jane stops fighting to save white people and starts fighting to save herself. At first, I had a hard time with this book because I went in expecting this to be a book about an alternate-universe antebellum zombie apocalypse, but really this is just the setting as the shamblers are the “new normal”. Once I was able to adjust my expectations and our main character is taken from the world she knows and dropped into the untamed wild west, I found this to be a solid read.
Along the way, Jane is accompanied by her fellow classmate and nemesis Katherine who easily passes for white but chooses not to. The pair soon finds themselves relying on each other and forming a close friendship. I appreciate Ireland’s use of structure in this book, slowly revealing that Jane maybe a slightly unreliable narrator. However, there are some plot threads–like a possible cure for shambler bites and shamblers showing up in fortified cities–that felt like they were left hanging.
Narrator Bahni Turpin’s performance was particularly dynamic in this one. She creates a spirited voice and performance that I haven’t heard her other audio books. I see that Jordan Cobb joins Turpin for the sequel so I’m curious what that is all about. The blending of genres is fairly unique in YA and it’s worth sticking around to see what predicaments Jane will get into in the sequel.
I will say, Jane is biracial and I was surprised that many of the characters with major parts in this book were passing, biracial or had red hair or colorful eyes. It felt like characters who were described any other way weren’t trying to save themselves until Jane came along. Just saying…