“What? Do I really have to read another Pride and Prejudice and Zombies review by Vic?”, you are asking yourself. Blame it on Quirk books, who recently sent me Dreadfully Ever After, the sequel to P&P&Zombies.
The folks at Quirk Books have been such good sports about the tongue-in-cheek barbs that I have slung in their direction, that I simply could not resist reviewing this latest zombies installment. I have slowly been finessed by their cagey publicists – who keep tossing books, and posters, and zombie paraphenalia my way – and whose understanding of promoting and branding a product in today’s tech savvy world could teach a marketing professor a thing or two.
Dreadfully ever After is Steve Hockensmith’s second foray into Regency England, land of the dead. After Seth Grahame-Smith’s record smashing P&P&Zombies, Hockensmith wrote the prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, explaining how the undead plague invaded England and how those darling Bennet girls were trained to become fierce Shaolin warriors, able to lop off the heads of marauding dreadfuls with an economy of movement that Steven Seagal can only dream about.
After reviewing P&P& Zombies two years ago, I outsourced the Dawn prequel to another reviewer, who has hardly spoken to me since. And so, wishing to keep the few friends I still have, I decided to tackle this book on my own. I kept putting off Dreadfully Ever After, but the review’s deadline was looming. I then drank a bottle of wine or two and began to slowly read the book.
Well, the joke is on me, for as I read it I kept going. Wisely, Hockensmith made no effort to write like Jane Austen. He created a rousing tale using his own words and Jane’s familiar characters in a setting that is both familiar (Regency England) and unfamiliar (filled with zombie slayers and the undead).
Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for four blissful years when he is bitten in the neck by young master Brayles, a freshly made zombie. Unfortunately, Lizzie cannot lop off the affected limb, for that would mean beheading her husband and result in a book that ends after two chapters. Fortunately, Lady Catherine de Bourgh reputedly has access to an antidote that might save her nephew’s life, however she does not possess a cure that might reverse the deadly effects of a zombie bite.
She sends Elizabeth on a dangerous mission to London, saying, “If I told you there was but one path to this salvation—and it was also the path to your utter degradation—would you, I wonder, be able to bend that stiff neck of yours and do what you must?” Without hesitation a stoic Lizzie hands Darcy’s care over to her nemesis and sets off for London with her warrior father and sister, Kitty to look for a physician who holds the cure to the strange plague. Her sister, Mary, is left behind. But she is no namby pamby miss and scurries after them, knowing her skills as a warrior might be of use.
And so the stage is set for a rousing zombie tale. While Darcy exists in a twilight world and experiences unspeakable urges, the troupe in London follows the few leads they’ve been given. The city has been divided into a series of quadrants and is surrounded by fortress walls and watchtowers. Much like airports today, travelers must wait to go through security:
A line of coaches and wagons more than a mile long stretched from the Northern Guard Tower, and it took hours just to be near enough to spot the red-coated soldiers stationed at the gate. The queue was full of merchants and peddlers and performers, all drawn to town by the upcoming recoronation of George III. The king, finally cured of his “nervous exhaution” (otherwise known as “insanity” when it afflicts those of lower rank), was about to reclaim his throne.”
This short passage explains why prepubescent boys and fans of gory mash-ups love the P&P&Zombies series – except for the plague of the undead, lack of electricity and running water, and a smattering of history, Regency England is not so very different from our dangerous world today. And so the plot moves swiftly on, prompting the reader to ask: Will Darcy be saved in time, or will Lizzie, Kitty, Mary, and Mr. Bennet dawdle in London so long that he will turn into a slobbering, mouldering, flesh-eating mess?
Steve Hockensmith’s way with a phrase can be a hoot. On page 158, Kitty declares of Nezu, Lady C de B’s ninja warrior: “He’s like a male Mary!” To which Mr. Bennet retorts, “Mary’s like a male Mary.”
Parents who worry that these mash-ups will liquify their childrens’ brains need not worry, for these books, while exposing their offspring to plenty of gore and carnage, provide no untoward exposure to gooey sex scenes or slimy kisses. And so I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide whether you should subject yourself and your progeny to a zombified England, or gently turn your backs to a series of runaway bestsellers whose ability to generate an impressive stream of revenue would make even Nora Roberts jealous.
Dreadfully Ever After, generously illustrated as all Quirk mash-ups are, goes on sale today.
Carnage rating: 5 out of 5 severed limbs
Romance rating: 1 out of 5 torn-out hearts
Humor rating: 5 out of 5 brainless zombies