Cbr13bingo Old Series
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) is the first book in a trilogy that centers around Elizabeth Bennet and the zombie infestation of England. The second book, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, is a prequel, and the third book, Dreadfully Ever After is a sequel. The second two books in the series were written by Steve Hockensmith.
Those familiar with Jane Austen’s novels will recognize expressions such as “violence of affection” and “violence of love” as they crop up frequently in her writing. “Violence” for Austen, of course, simply refers to the forcefulness of one’s passion, but when Seth Grahame-Smith uses the same words, they take on a more literal meaning. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Grahame-Smith cribs generously from Austen’s original classic novel but adds a strange twist. In this England, a “plague” has led to the rise of zombies. They roam the nation eating brains and increasing the army of Satan’s undead (also called “unmentionables,” “dreadfuls,” and “manky dreadfuls”). Gentlemen and even young ladies must train for combat in order to protect themselves and serve their country. Those with substantial wealth send their children to Japan to study the deadly arts with Ninjas. Those with lesser means, like the Bennets, send their children to China to study with Shaolin masters. Thus, the five Bennet sisters are
…servants of His Majesty, protectors of Hertfordshire, beholders of the secrets of Shaolin, and brides of death….
I just reviewed Pride and Prejudice, so I won’t rehash the plot. This novel follows it pretty much chapter by chapter, with large sections repeated verbatim from Austen. The younger girls are still boy crazy, and Mary is still dull and studious. Jane and Lizzy are still the most sensible. And this is still about the Bennet girls finding love under circumstances that limit their prospects. The difference is that since the Bennet girls are trained and skilled warriors (all five of them, even the silly younger ones who are not as skilled as Jane and Lizzy), they often have to slay and behead zombies while walking to Meryton. Instead of playing piano and singing at balls and parties, they demonstrate their deadly skills. At the Meryton Ball, where the Bingley party first appear and Mr. Bingley falls for Jane, the sisters form the “Pentagram of Death” at their father’s command and slay a small army of dreadfuls that break in. That zombies exist and the girls are fighters is surprising to the reader but not to the other characters in the novel.
The fun of this novel is that it takes Austen’s original work and words, and inserts something that seems preposterous but somehow works. While it can get rather gruesome, it’s mostly just funny. Lizzy takes her warrior code very seriously and tells Jane that she could not be with a man who would expect her to give up the deadly arts upon marriage, which was expected of young ladies who married. As the warrior code involves a code of honor, Lizzy’s responses to Mr. Darcy’s slight at the Meryton Ball and to the Bingley sisters’ interference in Jane and Bingley’s budding love are extreme and hilarious. She wants to kill them as a matter of honor. When she later discovers the extent of Darcy’s involvement in breaking up Jane and Bingley, “…Elizabeth … resolved to hold Darcy’s heart, still beating, in her hand….” When he proposes to her, she engages him in combat in Mr. and Mrs. Collins’ parlor. The scenes with Lady Catherine de Bourgh are especially wonderful because Lady Catherine, in addition to be an arrogant and condescending snob, is the best female warrior in all of England. She has a personal guard of Ninjas and sneers at Elizabeth’s Shaolin training. The demonstration of skills that Elizabeth performs at Rosings and her interaction with Lady Catherine later at Longbourne were pretty hilarious.
In the Afterword, the question of what Austen might have thought of her novel being given the zombie treatment is addressed by a literature professor who makes a compelling argument for Austen’s lack of surprise at it if not outright approval of it. Gothic novels were all the rage when Austen was writing, and even taking a known work and adding in occult details was not unknown. I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I would, and I certainly enjoyed it more than the film version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I’m left wondering why the makers of that film opted to write a different (and not great) story rather than just follow Austen’s novel as Grahame-Smith did. If you don’t mind blood, violence and gore in your period romance, you would probably enjoy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.