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Book Review | Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

From the publisher: After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother. But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodermus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880’s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears – as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her. But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not. Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive – even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

Deathless Divide is the sequel to Dread Nation (which I reviewed a few weeks ago), and continues that book’s action-packed thrills in a Reconstruction-era America overrun by the walking dead. Having escaped the doomed town of Summerland, Jane McKeene and her former frenemy Katherine Devereaux now have to lead their friends and fellow survivors to safety. That dangerous but simple task is complicated by several mysteries, though. Why have the seemingly mindless shamblers begun lying in wait and surprising survivors? Why is Jane’s former beau Jackson so determined to head for Fort Riley instead of the much closer walled town of Nicodemus? How has Summerland’s resident scientist Gideon Carr gotten to Nicodemus ahead of them, and why is he so well known there? To save their friends, Jane and Katherine are going to have to figure out the answers to these and more.

I found this book just as enjoyable as the first one, but harder to review. The book is divided into two parts, which feel like the second and third parts of the trilogy together in one package. I can’t say much about the second half without spoilers, save that the story gets pretty grim and dark. Thankfully, the addition of Katherine as a second point-of-view character helps bring new perspective to events and keep things fresh. The subtle social commentary of the first book also takes a bit more of a backseat this time, in favor of a more personal focus on the characters and their goals.

One part of the story I didn’t love is how much of the conflict revolves around a possible vaccine against the zombie infection. The context is very different, but it puts me uncomfortably in mind of real-world events, and it lands very differently than it would have if I’d read this at a different time.

Overall, Deathless Divide is a fun, if harrowing, roller coaster ride. Packed with action, friendship, vengeance, clever writing, and more zombies than you can shake a sword at, I enjoyed this one a lot and definitely found it a worthy follow-up to the first book.

For the audio version, Bahni Turpin is back to read Jane’s chapters again, and Jordan Cobb reads Katherine’s chapters. Both of them do an excellent job.

Deathless Divide is available for checkout from the Galesburg Public Library’s Young Adult collection and in audio form on Playaway.