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Dawn of the Dreadfuls Review and Giveaway!

March 3, 2010

Can I just say that I love Quirk Books? Pride and Prejudice and Zombies made me very happy, both in concept and in execution. (While Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters proved not to be my favorite book ever, I’m perfectly willing to attribute that to not having read Austen’s original. ) And now, here comes a prequel- an all-original story, based on the characters of Pride and Prejudice, but explaining how Elizabeth and Jane turned into ass-kicking zombie-fighting martial artists. I’m game! (Thanks to Melissa Monachello at Quirk Books for sending me a copy.)

Also- Melissa tells me they’re giving away prize packs of Quirk Books Goodies– all you have to do to enter is let ’em know you read about it here. Contest Link!

The first time I heard about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I laughed out loud, thrilled that it existed. That Quirk Books keeps coming out with these titles heralds a genre in the making. Not sure what you’d call it. Camp Regency? Literary mash-up? Monsters n’ Manners?

Whatever it is- I love it. Dawn of the Dreadfuls, by Steve Hockensmith, is Quirk’s first offering with a wholly original text. Although the Bennet family carries over from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Hockensmith writes an entirely original story about the first incursion of zombies into the sedate world of Netherfield and Meryton.

The freedom of introducing original characters lets the sheer giddy camp ratchet up a few notches. The corpulent Lord Lumpley is a lecherous delight, and to say anything at all about Captain Cannon would ruin several slightly gory, campy jokes. Somewhat in the spirit of the original (and Zombie-enhanced) Pride and Prejudice, love, or at least chemistry and potential, are in the air, particularly gravitating towards Elizabeth- the boyishly handsome Dr. Keckilpenny, who is trying to study zombies, and the austere martial arts master, Hawksworth. Reading them in a prequel feels strange, because it brings the knowledge that they are transient characters who will have to clear the way to allow for the canonical plot of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with or without zombies. Still, they make for great fun.

I enjoy the social gymnastics necessary to allow zombies to exist in Austen’s staid and mannerly world. One of my favorite things about the original P&P&Z was the way certain tweaks in culture and in what the characters took for granted made allowances for the incursions of zombies. One of the things I enjoy most in the prequel is seeing that architecture laid out. The first slavering, brain-hungry zombie interrupts his own funeral, finding the Bennet girls untrained in martial arts, and only Mr. Bennet sardonically certain he should have seen it coming. Converting a flower shed into a dojo and requiring the Bennet girls to take up martial arts training exacts a social price in places like Meryton. Much to Mrs. Bennet’s caterwauling dismay, Bennet girls wielding katanas risk snubbing and exclusion, even if they do save their own lives and those around them. Which works, and is in historical character, to an extent. It even sets up a good transition from Austen’s notions of femininity to Graham’s vision of P&P&Z, where fighting prowess is allowable in young ladies, before they set it aside for marriage.

Because the social costs of zombie fighting Bennet girls are halfway addressed, the ways in which they’re glossed over stand out, to me. Jane is sent, unchaperoned, to be a bodyguard for the clearly reprehensible Lumpley. Elizabeth is free to ramble about in the woods unsupervised, encountering Dr. Keckilpenny the necrologist without much comment, even from Mrs. Bennet (who, to be fair, might just still be grappling with the enormity of her girls turning from nice girls to unmarriageable martial-arts-trained social pariahs.) Yes, part of the conceit of Austen’s original is that the Bennet family is a family of poor prospects and daughters of dubious marriage candidacy— but I feel that, in playing with the camp gimmicks of zombies, a few too many 21st century allowances are being glossed over. To really set the first wave of “unmentionable” zombies loose in Austen’s playground, I wish there had been a little more care for the social costs and conflicts, rather than just playing it for campy laughs.

Full disclosure- I majored in anthropology. I’m sure I’m going to be one of the only people questioning the societal normalizing of zombie fighting women in Austen’s established worldview. Anyone else who gets a chuckle out of the idea of Regency-ish zombies should just enjoy the fun ride of this book and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I hear Android Karenina is in the works, which delights me, because I adore Tolstoy’s novel. I remember suffering through reading the original Pride and Prejudice in high school. Adding zombies made Austen fun. My better self recognizes this whetted appetite for manners and monsters should guide me to reread classics like The Hound of the Baskervilles or Dracula. Or something else original, classic and Gothic. And yet… still daydreaming about Classic&Zombies mashups. I know ZombieCatcher in the Rye would never happen. Still wish for it though.

And did I mention the contest? There’s a contest! Go check out Quirk’s site!

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