Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith

Reviewed by Meagan

Published: 2011

It's about: In 2009, the Undead gained new life when Quirk Books began publishing mashup stories that combined literary classics with various mythical or otherwise unlikely creatures. The first of these combinations was entitled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Despite the truly terrible plot, the adaptation achieved astronomical levels of success including being #27 on's bestseller list and #3 on the New York Times bestseller list (at least that's what Wikipedia says :). The popularity of Elizabeth Bennet as zombie hunter prompted first a sequel entitled Pride and Prejudice: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, published in 2010, and then this newest addition as the third in the trilogy. As the novel begins, Elizabeth and Darcy have enjoyed four years of married life, but the social customs that dictate that a married woman cannot hunt zombies has Elizabeth in a bit of a blue mood. Luckily for her, Darcy promptly gets himself bitten and Elizabeth is forced to trust him to the care of Lady Catherine De Bourgh and travel to London to seek a possible cure before it's too late. Mr. Bennet, Kitty, Mary, several ninjas, a man in a dog-drawn box on wheels, and King George III all feature in the adventure.

I thought: So I'll admit that when I first heard of these Jane Austen mashups a couple years ago, I was pretty dismissive. The idea was so utterly ridiculous I couldn't even work up enough energy to be incensed about Jane's words being subjected to such treatment. I would obviously never read such trash so I shrugged my shoulders and promptly forgot about them. However, in the following months, several friends whose opinions I respect mentioned reading these collaborations and remarked on their surprise at actually enjoying them. I remained disbelieving, but enough of a seed was planted in my mind that when the opportunity arose to review the newest work, I jumped on it.

I had grand plans to read at least Pride and Prejudice and Zombies before attempting the sequel, but time and the surprisingly long waiting list at my local library put an end to them, so I just took a deep breath and jumped in. And you know what? Hilarious. As I began reading, I turned the bottom corner up on pages with passages I found particularly entertaining, but quickly found that I was marking almost every page! As a lover of all things Jane Austen, I am always looking for a satisfying continuance of Elizabeth and Darcy's story, but have yet to only find attempts that are at best mediocre and at worst so odious I literally threw the book across the room in disgust. At last! Here was a sequel that passed muster! Sure there are some problems. Why in the world would Mr. Bennet's Christian name be Oscar? And I think the author misread Mary's quelling interjections in the Austen's original work. To me they were based on a rigorously religious and devout disposition but in this novel she is portrayed as a raging feminist. Kitty does well for herself though, and I was glad to see her become her own person once removed from Lydia's obnoxiously overpowering shadow.

Of course the entire story is ridiculously implausible. Of course every character, action, and description has to be taken completely superficially. Approaching the story with any degree of seriousness will only bring you pain. But somehow the utter lack of legitimacy works for me. If I were to write a book portraying the least likely scenario of Elizabeth and Darcy's married life, I doubt it would look much different than this novel. And yet, this novel is the least noxious depiction of that life that I have ever come across.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf or Rubbish Bin? In between. I had a ball reading this one, and have since checked out the first two in the series and have a hold on Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but I have a feeling these are more of a one-time indulgence. Although it might be entertaining to watch people's reactions when they see this novel shoved between Jane Austen and Henry James...

Reading Recommendations: Although I didn't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies before reading Dreadfully Ever After I think it would have helped a little if I had. There are quite a few allusions to plot lines and actions from the previous books that I could somewhat understand, but I'm sure would make much more sense with the right context.

Warnings: The violence in this book is very straightforward and no-nonsense, but there is a great deal of butchery and braining going on so if that doesn't appeal to you I'd move on to something else...

Favorite excerpts: Like I said before, there were tons of great lines, but here's a sampling of what to expect:

"They were a motley assortment, fresh next to rancid, rag-shrouded beside fashionably clothed, all united in the democracy of death."

"Dead flesh lay ahead. The kind that gets up and walks around and tries to make more dead flesh."

"When he regained consciousness, he started the process over. He stood, shuffled, fainted, stood, shuffled, found his clothes, fainted, stood, put on his trousers, fainted, put on his shirt, didn't faint, put on his waistcoat, didn't faint, put on his stockings, didn't faint, picked up his coat, fainted, stood, picked up his coat, fainted, stood,  and finally decided he could live without the coat. After much (but faintless) effort, he had on his shoes and cravat and was at last ready to leave the little tomb in which he'd be interred for so long."

What I'm reading next: Maisie Dobbs