Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith, 2010, Quirk Classics (Humor/ Horror/ Historical Fiction)
What’s it really mean to be a classic, anyway? Any old thing that has stood the test of time is probably the standard definition. And yet any work that is beloved enough to have inspired a plethora of prequels, sequels, spin-offs and mash-ups must hold an extra special place in our hearts. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is doubtless one such treasured work of literature, and the gentle authoress of yore is currently having a rather unusual bout of success by being joined at the hip with all manner of monsters. Last year’s bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith kicked off the trend; since then Mr. Darcy has become a vampire a couple times over ( Mr. Darcy, Vampyre and Vampire Darcy's Desire) and even Jane herself has been revealed as bloodthirsty member of the undead (Jane Bites Back). Another Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, got the monster treatment when and Sea Monsters was added to its title, and that brings us to the newly-released Dawn of the Dreadfuls, which may very well hold the unique title of being literature’s only prequel to a monster mash-up of a classic.
In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Bennet sisters are sword-wielding warriors who have trained with martial arts masters in the East and are renowned at home for their skill at dispatching the zombies that roam the English countryside. Other than that minor deviation, the story remains the same as Jane Austen wrote it so long ago—Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy misjudge each other until they’re head-over-heels in love. But before Elizabeth and her sisters were zombie-killing experts, they were proper young ladies who spent their time reading and sewing and dancing and trying to land husbands. And this is where Dawn of the Dreadfuls begins, with Elizabeth Bennet a mere sweet sixteen years old and peace and quiet reign over England—but not for long. As soon as the first zombie rears its decomposing head, Mrs. Bennet starts squealing, Lydia and Kitty cease giggling, and Mr. Bennet resurrects the swords that he fought with in the “The Troubles” long ago so he can turn his daughters into killers. Mr. Bennet doesn’t know why the zombie curse has returned after an absence of so many years, and frankly, he doesn’t care—and neither does the Bennet girls’ new martial arts master, Mr. Hawksworth. If the Bennet sisters want to survive, they need to learn how to kick some serious zombie ass. There is one man who does care about the why and the how of the zombie plague—but the scientific methods of the charming, bumbling Dr. Keckilpenny are as puzzling as Master Hawksworth’s occasional lapses in his otherwise strict observance of the warrior code. Both men have taken a liking to Elizabeth, who is proving to be a surprisingly skilled combatant. And Elizabeth herself doesn’t know if the passion building within her is for one of these gentlemen—or if it’s a bloodlust that can only be satisfied by complete devotion to the warrior way of life. As Lizzy chooses between the socially acceptable life as a gentlewoman and the thrill of the hunt, zombie mayhem splatters across the pages in all its gory glory.
Author Steve Hockensmith, best known for his award-winning Holmes on the Range series featuring a couple of quirky cowboys who idolize Sherlock Holmes, is in high form as he sets loose hoards of brain-thirsty zombies on beloved literary figures. Despite the plethora of monster mash-ups available on bookshelves (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer and the up-and-coming Jane Slayre, for example), Dawn of the Dreadfuls is is exactly the sort of violently bloody comedy of manners that fans of Jane Austen zombie mash-ups love best.