Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls'

Hello, everyone! This is a really special review for me, and it's part of a big Dawn of the Dreadfuls promotion by Quirk Classics (the publisher)! Other bloggers like me are also posting their reviews today, in advance of the book's March 24th release date. As part of the promotion, there's something in it for you!

A special contest is going on for the readers of the bloggers participating, and the prize is a huge amount of swag. To enter, go to this message board and mention that my blog (Tutor Girl Reads) directed you here. That's it! Now, onto the review!

The Book: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls

The Author: Steve Hockensmith

How I Found It: I read the original Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last summer and had a fun time with it. I was excited about this promotion to see if the prequel would be as much fun!

The Review: The Bennets as well as most of Meryton are attending the burial of a local man who has recently died in an accident. Except it turns out he's not really dead... because he's sitting up in his grave. This sight dismays Oscar Bennet, who immediately knows this is a sign of bad things ahead-- he's seen and slayed zombies before.

Though Oscar tries to get them to take charge, both Mary and Elizabeth cannot slay the creature, and Mr. Bennet does it himself. The incident makes him realize two things: Meryton and the whole of England are no longer safe, and that he must train his daughters in the warrior code he was always supposed to.

This book takes place four years before the events of the original PPZ. Lydia is only 12 or so (as opposed to 16 in the original P&P and PPZ), Jane is the only one who is "out" in society in the family, and Lizzy's coming out is not all that far away. That is, if the warrior training will allow the girls to even have time to be ladies.

Mr. Bennet, despite the objections of Mrs. Bennet, sends for a master to teach his girls the deadly arts. This master is Master Hawksworth, a young man who takes no pity on the Bennets and immediately begins their education. The girls are not, to say the least, up to his expectations-- Jane is too shy to be much of a fighter; Lydia and Kitty are more concerned with how attractive he is; Mary might be trying too hard to please... but Elizabeth is the one who is the most skilled. When Hawksworth tells them to unleash their battle cries, their inner tiger, the four girls muster weak cries. Elizabeth gives a piercing battle scream, prompting Lydia to remark, "She's got a tiger, and it's rabid."

The book mainly concerns the girls' training in fighting and their first encounters with and slayings of the "dreadfuls." Also coming into play is Lord Lumpley, a promiscuous nobleman who has an interest in Jane. Learning where he lives was quite a pleasant surprise! Another important character comes in the form of Dr. Keckilpenny, one of those absent-minded doctor types who believes he might be able to cure the plague, and who vies with Master Hawksworth for Elizabeth's affections.

To start with, yes, I did have fun with this book. Hockensmith did rely somewhat on stock characters-- the clueless doctor, the foreign master, the nobleman more interested in sex than the people, the men who have survived "the Troubles", etc. I did really like some of the characters, though-- for some reason, Capt. Cannon and his "Limbs" really entertained me (if one can call giggling at the antics of a man in a rudimentary wheelchair being entertained). Lt. Tindall was also an interesting if little-seen character, though it was odd to see the sisters being courted by men other than Darcy and Bingley. The prequel mainly sought to explain how the girls had been trained and how they had come to be the way they are-- for example, why Lizzy is the coldest killing machine in PPZ.

I enjoyed the book but had minor quibbles. The speech did not always sound as it should have in Regency England-- it actually sounded a bit too modern and American at points. The narration was a little better, as it was more formal in tone, but the dialogue could have used some tweaking to make it sound more, well, like Austen. There were also a few typos that could have been caught by an editor or proofreader. (I want to be an editor in the future so it always annoys me a tiny bit when I see things like that.)

There was a huge, glaring Regency etiquette mistake that somehow made it past a proofreader-- both Capt. Cannon and Lt. Tindall call Elizabeth "Miss Bennet". *takes huge breath* Regency England does not work that way! Only the oldest girl in a family (Jane, in this case) would be called "Miss Bennet"; all other daughters would be called by their Christian name and surname ("Miss Elizabeth Bennet"). That it was said twice in two pages by characters who really would have known that bugged me. It is a huge deal, especially to Austen, and especially in male-to-female relationships. (Heck, even in female-to-female: in Northanger Abbey, it's a pretty big deal that Catherine and Isabella almost immediately start calling each other by their first names, which is not done back then, and their friendship is unwise and inappropiate. Miss Tilney, on the other hand, and Catherine have the proper amount of respect for each other, indicated by them calling each other by "Miss *surname*" and their relationship is proper and appropriate.) [/Janeite rant]

Most of this is nitpicking, however. Though the dialogue wasn't always period-authentic and the plot, motivations, and eventual fates for each character were fairly predictable, it was fun seeing the common zombie-movie tropes in a Regency setting. It reminded me in a good way of my favorite zombie movie, Shaun of the Dead. (If you are living under a rock and haven't seen it, rent it now.) There's the doctor trying to cure the disease, using makeup and faking the appearance of a zombie to go unnoticed, a mass onslaught of zombies, the realization the problem may be more severe than initially thought, etc. Recognizing the tropes in an unusual setting was fun and I enjoyed thinking about the scenes in relation to recent movies like Shaun and Zombieland.

I also enjoyed that Hockensmith utilized the perspectives of a few different third-person narrators. We even get a peek inside Mary's thoughts, which was a welcome change (excluding the book of which Janeites do not speak). I wish a teensy bit more had been made of the relationship between Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth, and between Elizabeth and Jane, but there is enough of that in both the original P&P and the zombiefied one that I can let it pass. It was nice to hear from characters we did not normally hear from, like Mr. Bennet and Mary.

Most of my fellow Janeites don't share my enjoyment of the monster mashups, but they're pretty much the funniest things I'll read in a calendar year, given that I read so much plain fiction and such, and at a time like this when academic things are stressing me out, some laughs and zombie mayhem were just what I needed. Recommended to fans of the horror genre or of the original PPZ; it's great, gory fun!

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