Almost a full year ago now, I reviewed a little book called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a literary mash-up wherein author Seth Grahame-Smith injected zombies into the Jane Austen classic. I rated it a 9.22, which was the highest rating yet given at the time (it's still #4 on the all-time list). Then, a few months later, a sequel was released—though using a different Austen classic and a different co-author—titled Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Ben H. Winters had the honors of slicing in aquatic abominations this time around, and S&S&SM earned an 8.89, putting it at #8 on the all-time list.
I picked up the most recent installment, Steve Hockensmith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, a few weeks ago, and am excited to have finally found the time to slip it into the rotation.
Dawn of the Dreadfuls is very much what the publisher, Quirk Books, calls a "Quirk Classic." It takes characters from a novel in the public domain and mashes in anachronistic fantasy elements. This "Quirk Classic" differs from its predecessors in one major respect, however. DotD is not taken directly from an existing literary work. Sure, the Bennet family is already well-known via their introduction to the world in the original Pride and Prejudice, but the plot and supporting characters in DotD are all original. The book, a prequel to the Seth Grahame-Smith P&P&Z, follows the Bennets as they witness the outbreak of the zombie plague in the small English village of Meryton. Mr. Bennet, the stoic patriarch of the family, sees the outbreak as an excuse to finally train his five daughters in the "deadly arts," which he himself learned during the very first manifestation of the undead plague several decades before. During the earlier outbreak, what he often refers to as "the Troubles," he studied in the Far East under a Master Liu, and wishes that his daughters would adhere to the same warrior code that rules his own life. Unfortunately, Mrs. Bennet, and most of the neighboring countryside, find it abominable that a woman might think it acceptable to parade about with swords and shuriken slicing the heads off of things. The five Bennet girls are cast out from proper British society and informed that they are no longer welcome to attend the upcoming ball. Well, clearly this is unacceptable, and most of the book tackles the Bennet girls' attempts to train themselves in the ways of zombie self-defense while also maintaining their more genteel and ladylike traits.
Sounds fun, right? And it is. The book is full of zombie ridiculousness, just like it's predecessor. I enjoyed it. There were a few things, though, that I wasn't sure about. The first book has the advantage of being a perfect replica of the original Jane Austen text, except for the addition of the risen dead. Austen was a pretty stellar writer. Her plots and character development, even though dealing with seemingly trivial social matters, are virtually unparalleled. With DotD, Steve Hockensmith had to basically start from scratch. He benefits somewhat from the fact that Seth Grahame-Smith built up a fair amount of backstory in the original P&P&Z, but at times that fact also hurts him. DotD doesn't take place in Japan or China, as I thought it might considering Grahame-Smith's comments regarding the girls' training. It also occurs during a time when the "dreadfuls" are essentially returning after a decades-long absence, not at the true "dawn" of the plague. That's fine, and Hockensmith writes it all very well considering he's completely on his own, it's just not what I was expecting.
I also thought that the plot could have been a little more fully developed. I was disappointed at how much the scenes tended to focus on highly repetitive actions and conversations. It made the writing feel a bit heavy-handed, since most of the revelations towards the end of the book were very obviously set up in advance. Honestly, though, I think most of these problems have to do with the fact that Hockensmith was forced to emulate a style that is not his own, without the benefit of a preexisting text to guide him. Taking that into consideration and looking at the book primarily as a source of ninja-on-zombie action, I have to say that the writer has done an excellent job of keeping this franchise fresh and interesting for Quirk. I would still really like to see something written about the original zombie outbreak from Mr. Bennet's youth, and either his or the girls' time spent studying in Asia, but I can only judge this book on what it is, not what I wish it were. And despite the issues that I had with the book, the truth is I didn't want to put it down. Mr. Bennet plays a much larger role in this book than the original, which I loved. His wife is still annoying as hell, and I really enjoy his sarcastic remarks when dealing with her. It was also good to see the girls' personalities developing towards what they ultimately become in Grahame-Smith's book. It's difficult to write convincing prequels—just ask George Lucas—and even more difficult to write them when you weren't the original author. Steve Hockensmith deserves credit for a job well done, even if the book might not have been as strong as its progenitor.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls
by Steve Hockensmith
I can't really give the man credit for someone else's idea, but I can give him credit for his original supporting characters, most of which I found to be hilarious. Also, sometimes it's fun knowing characters are almost definitely going to die (since they only exist in the prequel).
The score would've been much higher here except originality really kicked its ass. Hockensmith was working in a highly restricted space. While I think he managed extremely well given the circumstances, the story did feel a little boxed in at times.
Regardless of anything else, you will have fun with this book. It's not a masterpiece, it's not something that scholars will still be discussing centuries from now, but in the grand scheme of things, who cares? If you read this book, you will have a good time. I think that should count for a lot.
Keep reading, Genoshans!
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