Review: Dawn of the Dreadfuls

Back in November, I reviewed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahme-Smith. I am happy to be able to give a spoiler-free glimpse of the prequel, which will be released on March 23rd.

Special note: Quirk Books is giving away 50 Quirks Classics Prize Packs, which include advanced copies, audio books and much more. See here for details.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls
by Steve Hockensmith.
Philadelphia: Quirk Books, c2010.
320 p. : ill. ; 21 cm. $12.95
to Publisher.

“A world with zombies in it had no tolerance for softness or sentiment. The dreadfuls infected everything just by virtue of existing. To live in their world, one had to become like them. Dead inside.

So be it.”

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (PPZ:DOD) achieves what a prequel should: providing background and context for a published work. What was most shocking about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PPZ) was the savage character of Austen’s heroine. I found it hard to imagine how Elizabeth Bennet came to be so cold, heartless and blood-thirsty. In PPZ:DOD, Hockensmith fills in the gaps for us.

At the very beginning of the book, the Bennet sisters are precisely as we find them at the start Austen’s novel. Then, in the space of the first five paragraphs, a corpse rises from his coffin–interrupting his own funeral. The zombie scourge which plagued England twenty-some years ago has returned and Mr. Bennet, once a warrior in the fight against the dreadfuls, resolves to make his family ready for the renewed menace. He begins to train his five daughters–much to Mrs. Bennet’s horror–in the ways of the deadly arts.

Elizabeth soon becomes desensitized not only to violence and death but to the cultural mores of society as well. When the town is scandalized by the Bennet sisters’ running about with swords at their hips, the girls are un-invited from attending a ball–a ball in which Elizabeth was supposed to have her coming out. While Mrs. Bennet, Kitty and Lydia “…fell into each other’s arms weeping, Elizabeth simply waited for whatever her own reaction might be. Tears, anger, bitter laughter… what was it to be? And why didn’t it come more quickly?” Elizabeth doesn’t care that those of society treat her and her family like outcasts (although she is moved by Jane’s pain over the matter). Without sharing the particulars that precipitate the hardening of Lizzy’s heart, I will say that the progression works. The develpment isn’t sudden or cheap.

A number of new characters are introduced. Most aren’t very memorable and each has a specific role to play: adoring suitors, some are lecherous rogue, and some are mere comic vehicles to lighten up the violent parts of the book. I expected to see a certain formidable woman make an appearance and I was not disappointed. I did not expect Darcy to make a cameo–and he didn’t. However, events build in such a way that we are meant to think of Darcy when certain proud, arrogant men disappoint Elizabeth. The consequence is that Elizabeth trusts, loves and shows mercy to no one but her immediate family.

The quality of prose didn’t do much for me (but again, it’s hard not to compare to Austen) and something (perhaps the pacing or the supporting characters?) seemed flat; however I, did appreciate that Hockensmith’s PPZ:DOD had far less gratuitous gore than Grahame-Smith’s PPZ. In fact, none of the gore sequences were gratuitous–all were used to advance plot and/or character development. I don’t particularly object to gore but it can be overdone. If I’m taken out of the story by the ridiculousness of a situation, the author has failed. Happily, this was not an issue in PPZ:DOD.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or other books in the growing Quirks Classics series. I just happened to notice that there are 50 copies available in a Good Reads Giveaway from now until March 23rd. If you’re looking for more, Quirks is gearing up to release Android Karenina in early summer. Details here.