Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
I had heard so much in the run up to reading this, that I couldn't wait to start reading, but honestly, whilst there was a lot that was really important and good about this book, it was also a bit of a mess.
Let's start with the good. The representation. That cover. The bad ass and wonderful ladies at the heart of this story, who are complex and flawed, and who work their issues out. The sexualities represented, the long hard look at the institutionalized racism, how whip smart and clever Jane is and plays with the expectations of those around her. This book had a huge amount going for it, and was a super important read - one that I heartily recommend for all of the above.
But (you knew there was a but coming) the plot was a shambles. No pun intended.
The first third is great, it carries on at a fair clip, and introduces the reader to the world and the main players. Then everything goes a little wrong and the rest of the novel basically wanders around in lost circles, never really going anywhere, becoming increasingly frustrating to read, and essentially ambles until it can set up the second novel in the final forty odd pages. It completely loses its way, and as a result loses my interest, to the point that I'm not sure whether I want to pick up the second book.
I wanted to love it. As I've said above there was an awful lot to love. But it felt like three different books smushed together - the first third, the rest of the story, and then the story being told in the letter excerpts at the start of each chapter, which felt like a different story entirely. As a result it was just left feeling messy and frustrating, despite everything it had going for it to start.