Wednesday, February 03, 2021

How Does A Zombie Story Fit In With Black History Month?

Deathless Divide, the sequel to Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, is a work of alternative history dealing with the rise of the undead after the American Civil War. That's right. It's a zombie story. Why would I consider that an appropriate book to discuss in relation to Black History Month? Because in an Author's Note, Justina Ireland writes that she feels the one goal she is sure she accomplished with this book is putting "Black people back into history."

Ireland loves the western genre but says she felt that while Black people "lived throughout the West, they are rarely the heroes of any popular narratives." Given the author's goal, and the sense that Deathless Divide appears to have been as meticulously researched as a traditional historical novel, and the fact that, as with Dread Nation, Deathless Divide is about race and gender more than it's about zombies, I think it's a good title to bring to readers' attention this month.

The family member who recommended these books to me felt that the sequel wasn't as good as the original. I think Deathless Divide is as good as Dread Nation, but it is different structurally, which some fans of the first book may find disappointing. 

Dread Nation was told from the point of view of Jane McKeene, an outsider antihero type who is engaging the way outsider antiheroes often are. Deathless Divide is told from alternating points of view, moving between Jane and Katherine Deveraux, another excellent character from the first book. Like Jane, Katherine is a powerful young woman, but she manages her power behind a facade of traditional womanhood, while Jane is right out there. For me, alternating points of view often slow down narrative drive, and that may be an issue in the second book for some readers.

People who have read the first book are also probably going to want Jane and Katherine to get back together, which  takes a while. This is more of a journey book, with both Jane and Katherine on separate journeys to arrive at the same place.

I think you could argue that the author took an admirable risk structuring the second book so differently. I think it worked. I definitely felt I was reading a different book, while sequels and, particularly series, are often so similar to the original and each other that it's hard to pinpoint what happened in which book.

Not the case here. I think these will be memorable books. 

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