If you have not heard about the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, you must be from another planet. The break-out best seller of 2009 (and soon to be a major motion picture starring Natalie Portman) took the publishing industry quite unawares making its co-author Seth Grahame-Smith a hot property, oodles of publicity for its publisher Quirk Books, and mega moola for all involved. Who’da thought combining Jane Austen’s genteel Regency-era novel and bone-crunching zombie mayhem would create the literary mash-up genre and spawn a plethora of knock-offs using Austen novels and other classic authors in an attempt to cash in on the craze?
I will admit the original novel was fresh and funny but the publicity it received was way out of proportion to its merits. Now its prequel Dawn of the Dreadfuls has risen from its grave placing the story four years before we first met Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and the maraudring horde of unmentionables invading Meryton, Hertfordshire. Well — of course we need to know how the plague began and why the Bennet sisters are trained ninja warriors battling the sorry stricken. *Ahem*
While attending the funeral of a neighbor, Mr. Oscar Bennet, his wife, and five young daughters witness the corpse return from the dead and attempt to attack the congregation. The unmentionables have returned after being vanquished for several years and Mr. Bennet, a former ninja zombie slayer, must train his daughters in the deadly arts to defend themselves and exterminate the scourge of sorry stricken who are among them again. He immediately sets about training his daughters who resist at first and flounder about with weapons and mild battle cries: ““Haaiieee!” said Jane. “Hiiyaaa!” said Mary. “Hooyaah!” said Kitty. “La!” said Lydia.” Shortly after a Master ninja warrior arrives to take over and all the girls are smitten with the young and handsome Jeffery Hawksworth. Lizzy has the most potential, but gradually they all learn and begin hunting in the neighborhood for the zed word (young ladies do not say zombies in polite society), meet others who have come to Meryton to engage the enemy, are ostracized by the community because young ladies do not kill unmentionables, kiss a deer, have romantic feelings for some of the young gentleman, and fight an epic battle. Along the way we are dished out a hefty dose of campy comedy, discover how dreadfuls sprout from the grave, and witness enough rotten flesh, goo, gore, and killing to appease any thirteen-year-old boy who hates to read. La!
The plot is “stoopid” but it is meant to be. This is a zombie book with Jane Austen characters in it, not a Jane Austen novel with zombies mashed into it as we previously experienced in P&P&Z. (no defense implied) On the upside, Hockensmith does get many of Austen’s character traits correct: Mrs. Bennet wines, wails and waves her lace hankie, Jane Bennet is beautiful and biddable, Mary is blossoming into an insipid moralizer, Kitty coughs and follows Lydia’s lead, and Lydia is the most precocious eleven year old going on twenty-five that you could ever wish to meet. Our heroine in the making Elizabeth is spirited, intelligent, and as fierce with her tongue as she is with her weapons. We do get more back story on why Mr. Bennet takes action and converts his daughters from genteel young ladies into ninja warriors. His character is the most altered from Austen’s original negligent father who lives in his library in order to tolerate his harpy wife. That was a challenge for me, among other things.
The new characters add animation (in the cartoonish sense) to the narrative and are all caricatures atypical in a wacky Monte Python skit: Lord Lumpley the lascivious aristocrat who lusts after beautiful Jane Bennet, the mutton-chopped Capt Cannon who has survived multiple amputations from battling unmentionables and must be transported about in a wheelbarrow assisted by his aids who act as his limbs, Dr. Bertram Keckilpenny the eccentric doctor/Sherlock Holmes who wants to study zombies so he can cure the “unmentionable plague”, the handsome ninja Master Jeffrey Hawksworth who teaches the Bennet girls the deadly arts and falls for his best student Elizabeth, dashing Lieutenant Tindall who ignites Lydia and Kitty’s passions for officers in red uniforms and many more. (unfortunately no lumberjacks) The downside, it is all pretty predictable fare. However, I will commend Hockensmith on his skilled wordmanship and cleverly crafted prose. He has captured the flavor of Austen’s novel with Regency-era words and phrases that are not too dense and intimidating for his target audience who complained that P&P&Z had too much Austen in it. He has certainly squelched their objections to not having enough zombie action.
I found that reading this novel made my head hurt after an accident so I listened to an audiobook recording read by Katherine Kellgren which made it much more palatable — except for the girls shrieking warrior cries which blew off my mob cap, startled my cats, and interrupted my knitting. If movie producers like P&P&Z, they will love the easily adapted plot of DOTD into animated movie.
Did I like it you ask? Well, sort of. As previously highlighted, the author is an accomplished writer who gave it his all. Some of the inside P&P humor made me chortle. If you love zombie grossness, then I recommend it highly. If you love Jane Austen, “I am afraid that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety.”
3 out of 5 Stars
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, by Steve Hockensmith
Quirk Books, Philadelphia (2010)
Trade Paperback (287) pages
Cover image courtesy of Quirk Books © 2010; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2010, Austenprose.com