Friday, September 11, 2009

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters)

Remember a few months ago when I reviewed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Remember how much I absolutely loved that book? Well, this Tuesday, September 15, Quirk Books, the publisher of P&P&Z, is releasing Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, the next installment of its "literary monster-mash ups" series. Lucky for all you Genoshans out there, I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of S&S&SM, and it is with tremendous pleasure that I am able to review it for you now.


Similar to its predecessor, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters adapts a classic Jane Austen work and introduces an element of supernatural gore to feast on the unsuspecting British elite. In this story, the Dashwood sisters—Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret—and their mother are forced from their home upon the death of their father (who was devoured by a hammerhead shark, by the way). They are invited to stay in a cottage on the property of a relation of theirs, the adventure-seeking Sir John Middleton, and adapt to their new lives quickly. All is not how it seems, however. Hideous sea monsters plague the shores of their island home, often sinking ships or interrupting beach bonfires to gorge on fashionable young ladies. All of these dangers, however, take a back seat to the most pressing problem in the young Miss Dashwoods' lives—finding a husband.

I loved the first book, and even though Quirk pulled in a different author for this one, it's definitely got the same basic feel to it. In both books, the inciting incident that produces such dreadful monsters—be it of the undead or aquatic variety—is never explained, although characters often have their own theories. It isn't necessary, though. In this one in particular, Winters just drops us in the middle of a world where humans have to constantly cope with the idea that any body of water could at any time hold creatures that want to devour them. S&S&SM differs from P&P&Z somewhat in its commitment to the ridiculousness of it's premise. The synergy between the new text and the Austen original isn't as clean, but I don't think that it really loses anything. There are a few story points that could possibly be a little clearer, but every time Winters strays from the original story he tends to do it in a way that enhances the sea monsterness of the whole book, so overall I'm okay with it. Instead of going to London, for example, Elinor and Marianne spend several months in Sub-Marine Station Beta (don't even ask what happened to Sub-Marine Station Alpha, tsk tsk tsk). Winters takes many more liberties with the text than his predecessor, and while he sacrifices that feeling of seamless integration that I loved in P&P&Z, I think he makes up for in giant-octopus-just-attached-his-sucker-to-my-face awesomeness.

Now, if you weren't a fan of the first book, chances are you aren't going to like this one very much. While they differ—in some cases for the better, in other cases not so much—, the general tone and feel of the book is almost identical. Death is treated as a natural occurrence that most of the characters are completely indifferent to (unless it's their own). Usually people die in hilarious ways, like being speared by an angry narwhal or swallowed whole by a massive jellyfish, and that's great, but maybe some people aren't into that kind of thing. Other absurd elements include: an orangutan valet named Monsieur Pierre, dolphin riding, an entire set of characters married to the men who abducted them from their aboriginal home, a 35-year-old man with a crush on a teenager, and an octopus whistle. An octopus whistle! Come on, how is that not amazing?

P.S. You should definitely check out the book trailer that Quirk made. It'll give you a good idea of what to expect if you haven't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

It is an extremely enjoyable book, and the adaptation into a monstrous world is probably handled better in this book than in P&P&Z. However, on the whole I enjoy the original Pride and Prejudice more than the original Sense and Sensibility, so it suffers some points there. That's Jane Austen's fault, though, don't blame the sea monsters.

I obviously have to dock some points off of originality since it's basically a sequel, but those points come right back on considering this could have easily been another trendy vampire book, and instead they use sea monsters. Hilarious sea monsters, too. Like giant dancing lobsters and turtles that can be used to ferry around old ladies.

This book is brilliantly executed, and I highly recommend it. It's engaging, funny, and at times even suspenseful. I seriously couldn't put it down. Plus, most of the truly ridiculous moments include illustrations, which helps when trying to visualize what it would look like if a sea scorpion ever got into someone's diving suit. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a lot more of these published in the future.


Remember, Genoshans, you can pick up Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters in bookstores or online starting September 15, and that includes the audiobook and Kindle versions. I suggest you check it out.

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