Dread Nation: Rise Up by Justina Ireland. Balzer + Bray, 2018.
In this alternate history, the Civil War proper ended when the dead rose up and started fighting both sides in what is now called the shambler uprising. Since then, the government has decided that the best way to restore the natural order of things is for Blacks and Indians to be trained to put down the shamblers.
Jane McKeene, the Black daughter of a plantation mistress, was taken away from her mother to be trained at Miss Preston’s in Baltimore. The hope of the school is for its young ladies to be hired as personal defenders for upper-class white ladies. But when Jane causes a ruckus at a fancy event, she finds herself, beautiful blond frenemy Katherine, as well as irritating and handsome Jackson on a train to a Survivalist town out west. The situation there is even bleaker, and Jane will have to find real allies fast to come out alive.
There is a lot of action here, several instances of Jane admiring handsome boys, but no actual romance or similar admiration of girls, despite her saying that she learned to kiss from a girl. Did I mention lots of fight scenes? I read this in print, but found the audiobook on hoopla as well, and correctly (it seems) recommended it to my son, who loved the action and the ongoing fight against racism as well as the shamblers. It’s clearly the start to a series, and we’ll be looking for more.
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman. Random House, 2018.
After two books about Seraphina, the focus of the narrative now shifts to her younger sister Tess, now 17. When we first meet her, Tess is trying to get her beautiful twin sister Jeanne a high-class marriage, while drinking herself into a stupor whenever possible. Her mother is a devout follower of St. Vitt, who believes that the flesh and its desires are inherently evil. While Tess is scornful of religion, we can tell her mother has been successful in making Tess feel very, very guilty.
After Tess very publicly embarrasses herself, she thinks she’s destined for miserable and lonely life at a convent. But then, Seraphina sends her a pair of boots, boots that tempt her to set out on her own. Traveling, she meets her quigutl friend from childhood, Pathka, and the two of them journey together. Pathka, a complex and decidedly non-human character, is on a mission to discover the World Serpent – even if humans and dragons both consider it mythical. Wandering, finding jobs to support herself, slowly coming to terms with the mistakes of her early teens, Tess slowly comes to find equilibrium and purpose. Bonus: the only wheelchair-bound love interest I can recall reading about. This is character-oriented fantasy at its finest.