Dreadfully Ever After review: There’s still some meat left
Who would have thought a third Pride and Prejudice and Zombies book would be so entertaining, but other than a few over the top moments, so I found it to be. And I realize that it’s really stupid to criticize a book that mixes Jane Austen and zombies for being over the top, but I need something into which I as a critic can sink my teeth.
Steve Hockensmith’s Dreadfully Ever After is the third of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies books, making it the sequel to the original book and the successor to the second book which is a prequel to the original book. Or in other words, just like George Lucas’ original plans for the Star Wars series divided by three.
Hockensmith, of course, took over the reins of the series from Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote the first book but has now left for greener — well, redder — pastures with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Now for those of you unfamiliar with the series, P&P&Z took the Jane Austen story we know so well and added zombies. I would guess the ratio is about 90% the original story and 10% zombies. But freed from the need to follow the original story, Hockensmith’s prequel and sequel are new and improved, now with even more zombies.
Dreadfully Ever After is set five years after Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are wed. The zombie menace is as bad as ever with London protected by the Great Wall and further divided into zones (perhaps based on London postal codes). But warrior Elizabeth has to step back from fighting the dreadfuls now that she is a wife and should depend on her husband’s protection. She’s feeling the conflicting desires of being a wife and someday mother and slayer.
She voices her unhappiness to Darcy, which distraction leads to one of the unmentionables taking a bite out of him. Elizabeth, not being a helpless Regency lady but a Shaolin master, will not allow her husband to become a mindless zombie with a taste for human flesh, and she applies to her hated in law Lady Catherine de Bourgh for help.
Lady Catherine herself is no slouch at slaying. In fact, it’s rumored she killed her husband rather than be a doting wife denied the use of her katana, throwing stars and other amusements. Lady Catherine and Elizabeth also have a history beyond the disagreements of Jane Austen’s original story. Elizabeth has had to dispatch any number of Lady Catherine’s ninjas sent to kill her.
But Lady Catherine has a potion that will delay the effects of zombiefication and she also knows of a complete cure being developed by Sir Angus MacFarquhar in London. She will help Elizabeth obtain the cure, but at the cost of Elizabeth’s honor; and we begin to suspect at the cost of her marriage as well.
And so Elizabeth travels to London, followed shortly by her father and sister Kitty. Mr. Bennet has, of course, trained all his daughters in the deadly arts, and Lady Catherine has obtained his involvement separately. This is a minor quibble of mine: I don’t know why Hockensmith needed to do this as Elizabeth, her father and sister are soon reunited in London, further joined by sister Mary. I really enjoyed Hockensmith giving Kitty and Mary such substantial roles, especially Mary who, of course, is little more than a sanctimonious cipher in Austen’s book. (I should note here that I have not read the prequel.)
Once in London, the book follows Elizabeth and Kitty as they try to ingratiate themselves with Sir Angus and his son, hoping to get to the cure at “Bedlam” Hospital, while Mary takes a more direct route that connects this sequel back to the prequel. We have a mix of silly — the fight between the fops and the dandies is hilarious — and over the top — I thought the reimagined Ascot races far too Roman — and romantic, as Kitty and Mary meet their true loves. Hockensmith also throws in a mix of Lady Catherine’s ninja servants, the new sewers that somewhat predate Joseph Bazalgette’s engineering, the recoronation of George III and the reason for the curse of the dreadfuls.
It’s very easy for a Janeite to sniff at the stench arising from a book full of zombies mixing with Austen characters, but let’s face it, Dawn of the Dreadfuls is a fun, fast read (I think I devoured it in two days) that I hope ends the series. But with the royal family torn to shreds, London overrun and a cure on the horizon, I think there’s still a little flesh left on these bones.