April 25, 2011

Dreadfully Ever After (Review)


Dreadfully Ever After (2011)

Steve Hockensmith

Quirk Books: 2011


4 / 5 zedheads

While Seth Grahame-Smith began Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by adding his own passages to Jane Austen's classic novel, I can confidently say that the series now belongs to author Steve Hockensmith. With both his prequel Dawn of the Dreadfuls (review) and his new sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sequel titled Dreadfully Ever After, Hockensmith has elevated the series above the novelty of the literary mash up and established the novels as genuinely funny and worthy stories in their own right.

Without copying Austen's text or losing touch with the spirit of the characters Jane Austen created so long ago, Hockensmith still manages to give us everything we've come to expect from the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies series: flesh-hungry zombies, deadly ninjas, detailed gore, wry humour, exciting adventure, epic battles, and strong female characters. Surprisingly, however, Hockensmith outdoes himself in Dreadfully Ever After with a story that is unexpectedly lively and touching. My only disappointment with the novel is that the character of Elizabeth Bennet falls by the wayside over the course of the story, yet shifting the focus away form Elizabeth does allow Hockensmith to breathe a lot more life and care into neglected characters like her sisters Kitty and Mary. Within the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies world, characters like Kitty and Mary get more care and development than they got from Austen. And through these supporting characters, Hockensmith both expands the universe and the scope of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, all the while marrying Austen's original spirit of romance and irony with his own sense of humour and modern sensibilities.

After the events of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Elizabeth Bennet, the fearless zombie slayer, is now Elizabeth Darcy and reveling in her wedded bliss......although not quite. Despite her warrior heart compelling her to battle ninjas and eradicate the unmentionables (i.e. zombies) from England, the strict moral and gender codes of the Regency period have forced her to give up the sword. After all, the wife of a gentleman should not sully herself with such bloody and scandalous (that is, unwomanly) work. Her husband, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, soon begins to notice that Elizabeth's lust for life is fading, but before he can attempt to help her, things go from bad to worse.

Darcy is bitten by a zombie and infected with the plague! With Darcy trapped between Life and Death, Elizabeth must attempt to save his life by allying with her nemesis, Darcy's aunt – the manipulative ninja master and female warrior extraordinaire Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady Catharine, who takes every opportunity to degrade and humiliate Elizabeth, charges her with a scandalous mission: infiltrate high-society in London by assuming a false identity and then seducing the head of a mental hospital so she can steal his experimental cure for the zombie plague. In order to do so, she must compromise her integrity as a married woman and swallow her pride or lose Darcy forever to the unmentionable horde that plagues England. 

Zombies and ninjas and subterfuge aside, Dreadfully Ever After is really a story about the importance of living with a strong passion for life, and living it your way. The theme of life is doubly important to the story. First of all, we learn that it's the spark of life in every living thing that the zombies crave to devour. They can see it, like a shimmering glow around all vibrant living things. With no life of their own, they are drawn to the life force of others and compelled to consume it. In his infected state, Mr. Darcy is also drawn to this glow; he struggles to maintain his humanity and avoid commuting such a social faux pas as cannibalism.

At the same time, the novel is populated by other characters like Elizabeth and her sisters Kitty and Mary who are feeling lifeless in a different sort of way. Their lust for life is dulling and fading because they are forced to live their lives according the rules and morals of others. Under the thumb of English society and Lady Catherine, Elizabeth cannot be the strong woman and warrior she wants to be. Under the strict discipline of the warrior lifestyle that often frowns on mirth, Kitty cannot be the silly and impulsive young woman she is in her heart. Under censor from others for her intellectually harsh and combative personality, Mary has not been able to grow as an emotionally sensitive person. Each of these characters is put on a journey and paired with other characters who, as the adventure unfolds, teaches them the importance of living life true to one's self and not according to someone else's version of "life.". While most romances from Austen's period ended with characters marrying and shifting nicely into the status quo, Hockensmith gives Austen's characters a very unconventional "Happy Ever After" that is as satisfying as it is iconoclastic and subversive.

Dreadfully Ever After is about as far as you can get from a dreadful read. Each chapter is a joy. Although the plot necessitates that Elizabeth become less of a central character than in past installments, Dreadfully Ever After populates its pages with interesting twists on classic characters and fleshes out the world in which they live. Hockensmith's version of Regency London under siege by the zombie plague is a fascinating take on the segregation and social boundaries within English society that the zombies threaten to topple.

If you've already read Dawn of the Dreadfuls and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, you can't afford to miss Dreadfully Ever After. However, if you're new to the series, you should have absolutely no trouble stepping into the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies world. Hockensmith makes it effortless and fun.