Zombie Squad Assemble: A Review of Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
Let’s get down to business! To defeat some zombies!
I am finally back with the sequel to my Dread Nation review! I know I promised this sequel a month or two ago, but we’re finally back to the zombie apocalypse of the late 1800’s with Deathless Divide. Let me tell ya, Justina Ireland did not disappoint. Deathless Divide was everything I wanted it to be.
Before I get to my review, a spoiler alert, for both Dread Nation and Deathless Divide, is in order. This is one book series I highly recommend you read for yourself before you read my review. You shall not be disappointed.
Justina Ireland picks up directly where she leaves off. Jane, Katharine, and their motley crew made up of children, a thief, and handful of sex workers are making their way from the now zombie filled hellhole known as Summerland to what is the nearest safe stop: Nicodemus. Hopes aren’t that high as the two towns are just a two day journey away from one another; the zombie hoard that destroyed Summerland is likely to make an appearance sooner rather than later.
Nicodemus is still a most welcome sight…at least at first. Upon arriving, Jane and Katharine are greeted and reunited by some awesome, badass, zombie fighting ladies from Miss Preston’s along with a few members of the Summerland patrols as well. This joyous reunion only lasts for a few minutes as Jane is arrested the moment she steps foot into Nicodemus. She’s under arrest for the murder of Summerland’s sheriff; who totally deserved his fate.
Now, this book is not simply Katharine trying to break Jane out of jail and trying to survive in a town full of people who don’t know how to defend themselves. This isn’t just a copy of Dread Nation. Nay, nay. Deathless Divide may feature many a town falling to a zombie hoard, but this book has a lot more than just that.
Just to list a few things that occur, this book features a runaway bride, zombies growing more smart and powerful, trying to find a safe space to live, grieving faithful friends and allies, turncoats, and hunting down the worst of humanity. Those are just a few things this book has in it though. Our main story this time around is Jane and Katharine hunting down the man who personally wronged them and is responsible for the deaths of thousands. I won’t go too much into the details surrounding this, but I will introduce our villain.
Meet Gideon Carr. At first, he comes across as a kind enough, shy scientist interested in the betterment and safety of humanity. One of the ideas he has for the betterment and safety of others is a vaccine that prevents people from being turned into zombies. Don't trust him though. Gideon here is testing his vaccine on people against their will, and instead of saving lives, he's wasting them as more people turn because of him. That’s right, folks, we’ve got a mad scientist on our hands.
Jane despises this man, and wants him dead. She will stop at nothing until he is no longer amongst the living. Because of him, she begins to change. The once loyal friend and ally turns into someone who is closed off and fixated on vengeance.
To be honest, Jane’s character arc feels repetitive. In Dread Nation, she had to learn to trust and fight with someone she never considered an ally. Katharine ultimately becomes her closest friend and confidant in the first book. In the sequel, Jane has to learn to re-trust Katharine. You see, the two of them end up separated for nearly two years, and Jane has taken to working with little to no help from others. There is one person she trusts and works with during this time, but she really only relies on herself. If Jane and this other character didn’t have the same goal during this period, Jane would have completely worked alone. I’m just not a fan of her character arc. I feel like something more could have been done instead of having to relearn everything from the first book.
As far as Katharine goes, her arc is more about her finding herself, and is much more satisfying. At Miss Preston’s, her focus was on becoming the best Attendant possible. While in Summerland, her goal was to escape; the same can be said about when she was in Nicodemus. When she’s finally out of the immediate danger of foolish townspeople and men trying to marry her—remember when I said there was a runaway bride?—she can focus on figuring out who she is as a person and who she would like to be.
I should note, Deathless Divide is set up very differently than Dread Nation. While Dread Nation is told exclusively from Jane’s point of view, Deathless Divide switches between the point of view of Jane and Katharine every chapter. If you remember my review of Dread Nation, I exposed myself as a Katharine stan. Needless to say, I was very happy upon discovering half this book is told from her point of view.
Katharine’s arc is more satisfying to me. Most of the reason is because this is the first time readers are tuned into her thoughts and inner monologue. Readers have seen her as a proud, exceptional young woman who is sure of herself, but the truth is she’s just trying to survive. She’s a mirror to the world around her until she finds friends and allies in Nicodemus and is out of immediate danger. She is free to act how she wishes instead of having to worry about blowing her cover. She’s finally free to be herself. She's free to find herself. These types of character arcs have always been my favorite. I love seeing young women come into their own and be who they want to be.
I won’t bore you with any more gushing about Katharine’s character arc; I'll do that in private. Instead I’ll talk about something that I know most will find more exciting: the zombies. If you remember my Dread Nation review, then you know I had questions regarding how the apocalypse came about and the zombies in general. Well Deathless Divide gave me some answers. I still have many, many questions, but I have some answers at least!
First of all, there are some details into how the change happens. Once bitten, the following happens:
Everyone knows how the change works. First, the numbness, then the chills, making a body shake so hard that anyone nearby would think they’re having a fit. And then, right before it happens, a yellowing of the eyes and drooling, like they got the scent of frying pork chops stuck in their nostrils.
Those details don’t tell me how long it takes for a person to turn though. That was my biggest question in my Dread Nation review and still remains my biggest question. Although I’d guess it’s upwards of ten to fifteen minutes after learning those details. I at least now know the changing is not instantaneous. I have more understanding of what the process is like, which helps to calm my ever curious mind. I’d still like to have an exact answer of how long it takes for a bite victim to turn into a zombie, but I shall live with what I have.
Now, I said it before but I’ll say it again: these zombies are so well done. There was good zombie lore in the first book, and it was greatly expanded upon in the sequel. It was hinted at in Dread Nation that the zombies were beginning to become smarter and incredibly more dangerous. They begin to wait for humans to cross their path and then ambush them. They also seemingly begin to communicate with one another to form massive groups à la Land of the Dead. The zombies are evolving! The characters hate to see it, but I love to see it.
What I hate to see is the lack of mention on how this apocalypse began. That lore does not exist. Granted, this book is set in the late 1800’s and the main characters are not scientists, nor do they have the time to research the beginning of the apocalypse and how it all could have began. It does make sense that there is never any hypothesis given, but I just want to know! Was it caused by a virus? Some random chemical reaction? I just want to know!
There is something else I really loved seeing in this book. In Dread Nation, Ireland implied that both Jane and Katharine might be part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Nothing was confirmed so I didn’t bring it up in my review, but I can gladly report Deathless Divide comes right out and says it. Jane is either bisexual or pansexual, and Katharine is both asexual and aromantic. We love to see it! We love to see stories featuring LGBTQIA+ characters that aren’t just about the oppression they face. Those stories are important, but so is normalizing seeing them in fiction novels that have nothing to do with their sexuality.
Now, it’s at this point in time that I once again must plead to Justina Ireland for something. I would still like to see a book in this universe told exclusively from Katharine’s point of view. I specifically would like to see more about the period of time in which she was a runaway bride complete with how the zombie apocalypse started. I want more books in this universe! It doesn’t have to be huge; a novella is really all I want. Please, Justina Ireland, I beg of you! I don’t want to let these characters go!
On a serious note, if you haven’t read these books then do so. If you are a fan of zombie literature, these need to be on your shelf. If you are a fan of feminist literature, these need to be on your shelf. If you are a fan of historical revision literature, these need to be on your shelf. They are just that good! Seriously, these are now my go-to suggestions for when someone asks me for a book recommendation.
And with that, I must bid you all adieu. Until next week, stay safe, wash your hands, wear a masks, and read some good books for me.