This would have been a more solid story if Ireland had a better editor.
The "War between the States" has been interrupted by a zombie apocalypse. Now, blacks are utilized not just for plantation work and as servants, but as trainable militia to be the first line of defense against the undead, in protection of whites. "Clearly", it's crucial that armed and weapons-proficient black people know their place in life; that they are inferior, as deemed by God. Jane, the mixed-race daughter of a plantation owner, is being trained to be a Attendant, hoping to be hired by a wealthy woman to become her protector. While Jane is cognizant of the difficulties she'll face in life due to her skin tone, she has goals to make the most of her position and see the world.
But men with power always want more, and there are opportunist who are seeking to set up independent cities where they can rule above all. Jane is kidnapped and sent there when she begins to uncover a plot by the Mayor of Baltimore to try to harness even the undead as slave labor. From there, she must try to plot her escape, save her friends, and reunite with her mother.
This is a decent book, but not exceptional. I found another reviewer who did a good job of putting my criticisms into words:
"Dread Nation is what I like to call a book that has all bones and no meat. There’s a solid idea but it’s basically bunch of events, zombie attacks, in-between a bunch of nothing. This book is contingent on world building because this is a new world. Post Civil War America is different than what we know because of zombies so there needs to be some solid world building BUT because this book is written in first person where Jane talks to the reader, the entire world is info dumped. When you have a first person POV, your world building options are limited. I looked through my personal library of fantasy and almost all of them are third person with the exception of Kiss of Deception that relies on interludes of old texts for world building. With Dread Nation, all we get is the old south with their plantations and zombies. Then they go to the old west where there’s a brothel, a church, and a saloon, and zombies. That’s not world building; that’s all old west movies. If that’s what Ireland is going for, relying on the reader’s preconceived ideas of the old south and the old west, why did this book need to be 464 pages?"