Yes, we might be living in the darkest timeline—or the dumbest, hard to tell. But be glad that you’re not our girl Jane, who contends with cruel racism and incompetence while also decapitating hungry “shamblers,” the reanimated corpses of the Gettysburg fallen and any poor soul bitten thereafter.
Some years ago, the paddy wagon plucked Jane McKeene from her home at Rose Hill plantation so that she might learn the finer points of combat and decorum at Miss Preston’s, Baltimore’s finest school for Negro girls. She and her classmates train hard for the chance to become an Attendant—bodyguard and chastity shield—to wealthy white women who fear the wrong sort of attention from the undead and the ungallant. The most effective weapon against the shamblers are glorified farm implements such as scythes and sickles; rifles are for other sort.
As you might expect, Jane vibrates with potential. She’s brilliant, fearless, fatal in battle—but she hasn’t yet mastered thinking before speaking, and she’s yet to meet an authority she can’t disrespect. (Did I mention a certain teacher is gunning for her?) Yet her wish to return home to her mother keeps Jane on track, as does her desire to stick it to her too-pretty nemesis, the “passing light” Katherine.
“As for a corset, well, every woman knows that wearing one of those things is pretty much suicide if you want to be able to fight effectively. A punctured lung if a stay goes awry, lost flexibility…I mean, how are you going to be able to do a reverse torso kick if you can’t even breathe?”
To tell you more would spoil the fun. Ireland has created a vibrant alternate history of the Civil War and Reconstruction, with resonant parallels to our current political reality. She deftly weaves in period-accurate speculative science, such as “ponies”, trackless steam engines with barred windows to keep out the undead. Within her well-considered cast of characters she provides a matter-of-fact but heartbreaking look at how colorism can poison the lives of black children and determine their fates even from birth.
Highly recommended for anyone who wished that Katniss Everdeen ended folks who truly deserved it, and for those who appreciate a confident narrator who doesn’t let her crushes obscure the big picture. This is the first in a series, and it is going to be a hard wait.