Buzzfeed Recommends Part Six: Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland Review

This is the sixth review in my ‘Buzzfeed Recommends Series’ in which I read and review all the books Buzzfeed recommended in their article: ’15 Brand-New Young Adult Novels That Are Just So, So, Good’. You can read the summary for that here.

‘Deathless Divide’ is the second book in the ‘Dread Nation’ series by Justina Ireland, it’s a YA novel with fantasy, horror and historical elements. It currently has an average rating of 4.20 on Goodreads, and I’ve given it the rating of 3 stars.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane thought she was finally going to solve her problems by heading west to California to find her mother. Yet she suffers another devestating loss on the road to Nicodermus and it has her questioning everything she’s learnt about survival. However, Nicodermus is not the safe haven it promised to be when Jane realises some of the other Summerland residents made it there too, and soon she’s caught in a gritty battle of survival that threatens to see her down a bloody, violent path. Katherine refuses to let Jane do it alone though. She never expected to see herself allied with Jane, but after all they’ve endured together she’s holding on tight to her friends, but when they reach breaking point it’s up to her to ensure they make it through together.

“I smile tightly, but say nothing. He is trying to protect me, in the simple way men are always trying to protect women: by stealing away their freedom.”

I wanted to love this novel because I really connected with ‘Dread Nation’ in a way I wasn’t expecting to, but I find this to be disappointing in comparison. I didn’t enjoy the characters as much in this and it felt like Ireland didn’t have a fully-formed idea for the sequel, as the plot was very, very repetitive.

I really enjoyed Jane in the first novel, she had her flaws but she was a great protagonist and full of life, but this was almost a different person. In this book Jane not only experience betrayal but also a shambler’s bite which I understand is a deeply traumatic experience, but the way Jane was written after these events struck me as odd. I’m not sure what it was about Jane, but she just felt off in comparison to the first book. I think it was because Jane went from a character who cared and loved for people, to a character who at the end of the novel almost sacrificed Katherine, her best friend, for revenge, and didn’t even appear to be that ashamed of it. However, she wasn’t so poorly represented in this I didn’t recognise her as a character, but there were moments in this book where I felt Ireland missed the mark with this character in a way she didn’t in the first.

One aspect of Jane’s arc that I enjoyed in this book is her acceptance that her mother is not a good mother to her. In ‘Dread Nation’ we learn about Jane’s mum slowly, and whilst I admired her for being a black women who was able to use her position and power to help others like her, and was obviously a very strong woman, she clearly wasn’t a good mother – and this honour of mother really went to one of Jane’s Aunts. In the ending of this book we finally see Jane recognise this and let go of her mother after realising she’s not what she needs, and it was a great moment to witness and it felt like some great growth from the character.

I thought I would really enjoy reading from Katherine’s perspective for half of this novel, but I didn’t. I don’t think Katherine’s voice brought anything new to the novel, and all her perception did was fill in some of the blanks when her and Jane were separated, but there was nothing that set her perspective apart from Jane’s in a way that felt unique or even distinct to me. I also found Katherine to be a little, well, boring in this book. I didn’t connect with her in the same way I did in the first book, I suspect it’s because I’m failing to identify a clear character arc for her in this sequel. She clearly goes through a character arc in the first book where she becomes more a resourceful person and caring to other women in her life, but I can’t tell you what her character arc is in this – she was the same person she was at the end of book one.

You remember how I said I liked the minor characters in my last review, in particular Jackson? Guess who was pissed when one of her favourites was killed off really quickly! Me! I don’t understand what the point of Jackson’s presence in this book was entirely because his presence was never fully explored. Just before he died we learnt he was secretly married, which felt like a very rush decision by the author as this was never hinted at in the prequel, and then his ghost or spirit followed Jane around for the whole book and neither of these points were ever fully explored. I understand Jackson’s ghost was meant to be a loose metaphor about Jane unhealthily holding onto revenge but sometimes I felt it didn’t really fit the story nor the world this is set in. Also, Jackson’s secret wife was never fully explained or explored and I found that to be really weird – why drop that bomb and then never mention it again? I thought the wife would perhaps play some part in the plot later on, especially as she was meant to be pregnant, but she was mentioned once and then never brought up again – I found that to be really frustrating.

Although, I did still enjoy the more minor characters in this book. I thought there were some great additions whilst keeping some familiar faces from the prequel, and each one was distinct. I was really happy Sue and her desires were explored a little more and she got to fall in love! It was really sweet and a good way to balance the novel – it wasn’t at least all dark and twisted, there was some hope. One minor character that played a large role by the end of the novel was Daniel. I was excited when I realised we were going to see more from this character as he was shrouded in mystery in the first book, but I’m not sure I liked what was revealed. He felt very flat as a character and I still don’t understand his personality nor his motives really, and he felt like he was included a little too late – as a reader I didn’t really have any reason to care about his fate.

I think the biggest flaw this book suffered through was the lack of distinct plot. It felt very repetitive. The same thing happened over and over again with massive shambler hoards, and I understand this was commentary and symbolism of Jane’s struggles as a biracial person who can’t pass for a white person, and also systematic racism, but it is boring to read when the plot for the second book is basically the same as the first. Repeatedly, people travelled from big city to city, with each new city being the ‘promised land’ where there were no shamblers, only for people to discover it was either: full of shamblers, Gideon had been there so there would be shamblers soon, or there were no opportunities there at all. It was dull. It didn’t need to be repeated that many times, especially since Summerland in the first book was the blueprint for all these cities and plot points. I understand what Ireland was trying to convey and it’s an important discussion and point, unfortunately she sacrificed plot to do this. However, I should note that there were some aspects to the plot and story that I really enjoyed. I liked the idea of how the vaccine worked, it was different from what I expected and meant a lot of things suddenly made sense within the series.

Also due to a lack of distinct plot in part two of the book, it meant the pacing was off for the entire novel. Part one had a semblance of a different plot from what we’ve seen before and was full of action so it was very fast-paced, when compared to the turtle pace of part two where the same thing happened over and over again, this was frustrating.

I’ve also noticed that whilst I think Ireland brings forth great representation for African American people in this series in particular, and explores the history and treatment of that community, she doesn’t appear to give any other minorities the same treatment. Whilst I wouldn’t expect Ireland to necessarily flush out the deep and troubled history of all minority groups in American history in one book series, there is something about how the Chinese and Native American communities in this book are represented that seems off to me – I’m not sure what exactly it is, but something about it didn’t sit quite right with me. Especially after reading more material online that spoke about the representation of Native American people in the first book ‘Dread Nation’.

Overall this was a book that left me feeling really conflicted, as I like part one but not part two, I liked some aspects of Jane but not other’s, and it felt very repetitive by the end. I’m not sure if there will be a sequel to this but I’m curious as to where this would go if there was one. However, I’m also not sure if there should be a sequel as this sequel wasn’t that good in comparison to book one.

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