4.0 out of 5 stars
A powerful, bittersweet conclusion
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on July 27, 2020
Whew, this book wrung me out in the best, most bittersweet way and all I want to do is climb into it so I can give Jane McKeene and Katherine Deveraux the biggest of hugs.
I loved Dread Nation and I've been eagerly anticipating this follow-up ever since I read it. In fact I've been anticipating it for so long that I've only just got around to reading it, despite owning it for months. Sometimes you need to build yourself up to the novels you know are going to punch you in the gut.
Having escaped Summerland and seen it fall to the undead, Jane and Katherine, and their little group of survivors, find themselves in search of a new, safe place to rest their heads. Jane wants to get to California, where she believes her mother and her Aunt Aggie are, but it'll be a long journey, and she and Katherine will need each other to survive--even if Jane still can't quite admit that she and Katherine are friends.
Deathless Divide is an emotional roller coaster with twists and turns galore, and it takes no prisoners. I love how mature this novel is. That's not to say that other YA is immature, because it isn't, but Ireland really understands human nature and how life is often very unfair. The chemistry between Jane and Jackson, for example, is still there, but we're never allowed to forget that he's someone who's wronged Jane time and time again. That doesn't make their feelings for each other any less real, in fact quite the opposite, and yet despite it all it's still so easy to understand why the two of them are drawn to each other.
The relationship at the heart of this novel, though, is the friendship between Jane and Katherine and it's my everything. Unlike the previous book, Deathless Divide is told from both Jane and Katherine's points of view; initially I was worried that I'd miss Jane, her narrative voice is so compelling, but Katherine is a worthy heroine in her own right. She also confirmed herself as aroace - she didn't use that term, of course, considering she lives in the 19th century, but she made it very clear that romance and sex aren't for her - and I honestly wish I could give Ireland a hug for putting an aroace heroine at the centre of her novel.
For Katherine, nothing matters more than friendship does and, while Jane jumps into romantic entanglements headfirst and I love how all-in she is with her feelings, I so loved and appreciated seeing a friendship at the heart of a YA novel. If Netflix don't give me an adaptation of these two best friends kicking zombie butt together, then what is even the point of Netflix?
Jane herself I loved even more than I loved her in Dread Nation, if such a thing is possible; she's a ruthless little liar who's ultimately good at heart and I adore her. The poor girl is pushed to the brink and back over the course of this novel and she is my queen. There was a moment when I genuinely yelled 'NO!' at the page because I so wanted Ireland to give Jane a break, but the truth is this novel wouldn't be what it is if that were the case. This is a novel set in 19th century America, and therefore it can't be a fun zombie-infested jaunt through the American frontier. Not when our heroines are considered disposable because of the colour of their skin.
I also have to give points to Ireland for writing one of the most frustrating villains I've ever read, and I loved how it played out. Let's just say, if you've read Dread Nation, the villain of this novel might not be who you're expecting, but it makes perfect sense and it suits the rest of this story. I'm so excited to re-read the first book now that I've finished this duology, just because knowing what becomes of so many of the characters will add a whole new power to it.
The only reason this conclusion wasn't quite a five star read for me was down to one character who kept popping up who I don't think deserved Jane and Katherine's forgiveness. I don't think this story would be quite what it is without him and I can't fault him for being the survivor he is, even when those survival skills mean he often puts characters I care about a lot more in danger, but I still don't trust him or like him that much. He didn't ruin the ending for me by any means - I loved this novel, if that wasn't already clear - but I think I'd've liked the ending even more than I did if he hadn't been there.
There's also a time jump in this novel which I didn't dislike, but there are relationships, both romantic and platonic, that develop in that time that I would have liked to have seen develop myself, rather than be told about them in hindsight. That said, I do love the ultimate feeling I got from this book which is that Jane and Katherine tell the reader what they want to share. We don't get to know every single little detail, every single adventure, because their lives are their own. Instead we get to be grateful we got a glimpse of their story, and their friendship, at all.
I loved this duology, and I'm looking forward to re-reading it one day in the future and letting it hurt me all over again.