Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls is twisted. I mean that in a good way. It is the prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is set four years earlier, and its ghastly illustrations and content delightfully contrast with its gentle, proper prose style.
Zombies are referred to as “unmentionables” or “dreadfuls,” as if using more descriptive terms might poison the speaker. This polite device is contradicted by passages that are both violent and graphically descriptive. When one character questions another about the necessity of removing the head of a man who died when cut in half by a carriage, the second replies, “I have seen nothing more than a head, a neck, and a pair of shoulders devour a highland warrior, kilt and all.” Readers may want to choose a secluded corner in which to read; they will be laughing loudly.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls centers on the Bennet family; Mr. Bennet is a veteran zombie-killer with a silly, drama queen of a wife who talks incessantly, and five daughters, some of whom are inane and frivolous. Mr. Bennet takes it upon himself to teach these daughters the art of zombie hunting, not an easy task with a group characterized by their horrified reaction to sitting on the floor.
Author Steve Hockensmith has done an admirable job of describing hideous events with grace and dignity, thereby delivering a story that is no less than hilarious. I find myself rereading passages and enjoying their resonance. Producing truly amusing humor is a difficult task which Hockensmith ably handles.
Elizabeth and Jane Bennet soon rise to the top of the class, but sisters Kitty, Lydia, and Mary—after much protesting—bring up the rear. Can you picture ninjas in Edwardian dress? Despite their constricting clothing, that’s what these five sisters train to be.
If life isn’t complicated enough for the Bennet sisters, they are also preparing for Elizabeth’s coming out, which is to occur soon after the first zombie (excuse me, unmentionable) comes out, so to speak. Jane, whose mother is endlessly talking about marrying her off (actually, she’s just endlessly talking; if it’s not the girls’ marriage prospects, it’s the weather), is the beautiful, kind sister who has captivated the local baron, a despicable roué intent of relieving her of her virtue. The girls need not worry about the coming out ball; once the “good people” of Hertfordshire learn the Bennet girls are being tutored in the “deadly arts,” they are horrified, and the invitation to the coming-out ball is rescinded.
The Bennet girls go through a transformation. All but Elizabeth were reluctant to become warriors, but once they embrace their destiny they learn what it means to be an Englishwoman. Somehow they manage to be 100% warrior, 100% lady (or girl, in the case of the youngest sisters who lop off heads when they aren’t giggling and gossiping).
A hint of romance rears its ugly head throughout Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls. While Jane sees only good in everyone, including the lecherous baron, Elizabeth is more level-headed, but soon starts to fall for the mysterious “Master” Hawksworth, a powerful warrior who has come to the Bennet home to mold the Bennets (except Mother who is too busy swooning) into ninjas. Jane is distracted by a handsome army officer who does not approve of English women battling with the undead; Elizabeth finds distraction in a quirky, young doctor whose dedication to re-Anglicizing the dreadfuls seems misplaced since they are both dead and decomposing. Hockensmith generously describes the state of various unmentionables when they come calling.
Throughout Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, Elizabeth experiences a number of awakenings, becoming a warrior and true hero in the process. When it comes to the men, she experiences a number of disappointments.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls culminates in a zombie jamboree at the estate of the debauched baron, Lord Lumpley, whose home has become a refuge for hundreds of tradespeople and their families, villagers, and soldiers much to his disdain. As the unmentionables swarm the estate, Lord Lumpley laments, “My God…just look what they’ve done to the topiary.”
Hockensmith has populated Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls with a memorable cast of characters—some admirable, some despicable, and some just dead. He walks a fine line between decorum and disgusting and delivers an entirely satisfying story that is by turns wonderful, horrible, hilarious, savage, and sad. Look for it in stores March 23.
Bottom Line: Would I buy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls? You betcha!Powered by Sidelines