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 Nicodemus 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 (Goodreads).
This weekend was big on zombies for me, apparently. Having binge-watched the final season of the CW’s delightful and shamefully underrated izombie, I went all in on the day’s undead theme and settled in to read Deathless Divide. My mind was already brimming with zombie-adjacent media (9 episodes worth!), and I had high expectations for the sequel to Dread Nation, one of my favorite books of the previous year. Would this second installment be able to maintain the clever tone and gory action that made the first book so great? Would the body count possibly surpass the murder-fest that was Dread Nation? Would I read the book, be disappointed, and then have to retroactively apologize to the numerous people I had cornered and forced to listen to my waxing poetic about the virtues of Justina’s Ireland undead histories?
Now, these were some deep thoughts. They weighed heavy on my shoulders; I feared my expectations would be left unmet. But(!) I knew Jane McKeene would not back down from such trials. So, neither would I. Like our favorite bounty-hunter-heroine facing an undead shambler horde, I put on a brave face (a Korean beauty sheet mask), harnessed my scythes (a pristine copy of Deathless Divide lovingly purchased from a local small bookstore), and went headfirst into battle (spending hours on my couch with the book, tea, and a blanket).
Deathless Divide emerged from the fight triumphant!
Ireland’s characters remain the best part of the novel. Jane has my back, Katherine has my heart, and the novel’s abundance of ruffians have my ire. The new dual perspective between Jane and Katherine did throw me for a loop, but I adjusted quickly enough and never suffered from narrative confusion. Ireland was able to make the girls’ stories distinct, compelling, and exciting. I also enjoyed the quotes that accompanied each character’s chapter – those were fun!
The writing takes on the (bloody, bloody) action with zeal, but Ireland’s overall descriptions and rhythm are truly lovely. She plays with the genre, using the zombie scenario to enhance descriptions and heighten emotion. One of my favorite passages comes from a Jane chapter, in which she surveys a gritty saloon:
The inside is dark, dreary. The wooden floorboards are warped, the air hangs heavy with the stink of unwashed bodies, and the few lanterns that burn inside do more to heighten the gloom than to dispel it. There’s a small hearth, but the fire there ain’t enough to chase away the chill that clings to the room like a shambler that’s latched on for a bite.
…one might think that in the end times there’d be no more use for such a den of iniquity, but the men within these four walls know better. They know that survival comes with a hefty price, and sometimes the only way is in forgetting.PAGE 287
The novel is long and features a time jump, but the continuous action keeps things exciting and compelling. I appreciated the character growth in Jane over the long time span; that poor girl goes through hell by the novel’s end! Things ain’t easy when you’re tracking down your enemies, plagued with zombies and regret.
Overall, this zombie western was so fun to read, gory bits and all. Its Black girl protagonists and depictions of love (both romantic and platonic) are super cool. Living on a frontier overrun with walking dead is a nightmare, but reading Deathless Divide was a dream.
- Katherine is the best? Her narration was my favorite? I want to be her best friend/zombie-fighting partner? (The answer is yes.)
- The cover! The clothes! The blood! Truly badass.
- I recommend reading Audrey’s review on Goodreads for some important points about the depiction of non-Black minority groups in Deathless Divide. She articulated some thoughts that I myself had not considered!
Have you read Dread Nation or Deathless Divide? If not, do you have a favorite zombie-related piece of media? Do you, unlike me, think you’d be able to survive a zombie apocalypse? Key questions, everyone.