Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After- Steve Hockensmith

Darling, you’ve lost weight!

“You can have your precious honor or you can have your precious Darcy.  One or the other must be set upon the pyre. Which it shall be I leave to you.” ~Lady Catherine De Bourgh.

Traditionally, the hallmark of a great play is the three act structure, and every novel must have a beginning, a middle, and an end (unless you’re into crappy stream-of consciousness).  However, when the material cannot be sufficiently covered over the course of a novel, writers seem drawn to the idea of a trilogy.   Recently, Stieg Larsson’s  Millenium Trilogy has enthralled readers, and while not originally published as a trilogy, few would think of The Lord of the Rings otherwise.  So, when Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (apologies to Jane) took off up the charts, what better way to bookend his work than to transform it into a trilogy?

The prequel, P & P & Z: Dawn of the Dreadfuls was a delightful introduction to the Bennett clan, a wittily crafted back story to the events of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and a nifty explanation of how things came to be the way they are in the “Z-land” that is Regency England.  Or Dreadful England, whichever you prefer.  And yet, one must wonder what happened to Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy after they conquered his pride and her prejudice.  Did they settle down in wedded bliss, marred only by the occasional ninja attack or Dreadful invasion?  Was Elizabeth able to content herself with the domestic life, forbidden from practicing her martial arts by the conventions of polite society?  Well wonder no more, because the answer lies in the sequel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After.

It is a time of hopeful optimism, for the Regency is to become a Monarchy again.  The madness of King George III has abated, and his re-coronation is anticipated by aristocracy and peasantry alike.  For Elizabeth Bennett, it should be a happy time, married to a man she loves, living a life of relative comfort…yet something is amiss.  Born and bred a warrior, she finds herself unable to indulge in her necrocidal urges, restrained by the sense and sensibility that must be adhered to as the wife of a nobleman.  Decapitating Dreadfuls just isn’t accepted as a skill set  a married women may practice.  Darcy understands her discontent, but finds himself unable to lighten the mood, and Elizabeth spends many a day roaming the moors in hopes of a lethal (not for her) encounter.

Yet when that encounter comes, it is Darcy who is delivered the fatal blow, the death sentence that accompanies even the slightest nibble from the recently re-animated.  Under the threat of losing the man who means everything to her, thoughts of discontent with her position in life vanish, and lead to a bargain with her personal nemesis…her aunt (through marriage), the lady Catherine De Bourgh.  It is to Darcy’s fortune, but Elizabeth’s misfortune, that her oldest enemy might hold the key to his survival in the form of, if not a cure, a stopgap until one can be found.  Elizabeth must swallow her pride and overcome her prejudice if she is to save her soul mate.

Of course, there is a price.  Catherine De Bourgh is a lady in name only, and suggests a course of action that might save Darcy, yet humble Elizabeth.  In London there is a doctor working on a cure for the Dreadful scourge, but he will not readily give up his secrets.  Subterfuge and seduction are the route to Darcy’s salvation, by way of  treachery and deception, shame and ignoble acts for Elizabeth and her family. And while they are gone, no one would expect lady De Bourgh to be idle, nor her daughter Anne.  Treachery abounds.  So off to London Elizabeth goes, in the guise of a wealthy (new money that is) spinster and accompanied by her uncouth father and sister (Hello Kitty!)

A word about London in the time of the Dreadfuls.  It is a place of walls, a fortress city, subdivided into fortified districts, tied together only by the amazing sewer system that winds its way under the city.  A place of dandies and fops, Dreadful races (literally…it does not pay to be Irish unless you can outrun a zombie) and Bedlam, both literal and figurative.  In this “hospital”, residing in the sinister section twelve central, is the cure they seek, and with the help of a daring plan, sisterly love and a few ninjas, they must breach its walls if there is any hope of obtaining the cure.

 

The irony of this novel is that it is not so much the story of Elizabeth and Darcy as it is the coming of age of her younger sister Kitty, historically characterized as a boy hungry air head, and the humanization of her elder sister, the ever sanctimonious and bookish Mary.  Away from the influence of the truly vacuous Lydia, Kitty is able to assert her own character, that of a young woman who looks at life in a light-hearted way, yet has an underlying sense of, well…sense.  As for Mary, once parted from her precious books and challenged by a mysterious protector as she attempts (on her own) to discover the secrets of Bedlam, her sharp edges are softened (unlike her blades) and she develops a softer touch.  For both Kitty and Mary, romance appears when least expected.

The author also introduces a variety of  antagonists for the Bennetts, from the  Monty Pythonesque Angus MacFarquhar, a mirthless scientist capable of hideous depravity (and considerable racism) in his quixotic quest to cure the land of their “troubles,” to the treacherous, yet troubled Nezu, leader of Catherine Debourgh’s ninjas.  And then there is the mysterious beggar in a box, an agent with an agenda of his own.

What I always love about a Hockensmith novel is not so much the storylines (they are great!) but rather the approach to language.  Witticisms and double entendre’s abound, and make for a smart, yet hilarious take on an otherwise somber subject.  Death and mayhem are infused with a sense of both the ludicrous and hilarious, and there were many moments when I chuckled out loud at either the banter or the situations the characters find themselves in.  My biggest complaint (probably the only one) is that the novel is not longer.  I could have read another hundred pages of the exploits of the Bennetts before coming to the conclusion and it was with a sense of both satisfaction and regret that I finally put down the book.  Like a great trilogy, it has a sense of completeness, but also leaves open the possibility of further adventures.

Steve himself speculated on the subject in a nice little interview over at Daemon’s books back in April.

And, like all Quirk Classics, it has its own  trailer:

 

 
*bloggers note:  In my short time as a reviewer, I’ve discovered that advanced copies of new novels are hard to come by up here in the great white North (yes, folks, Canada).  Publishing houses and promotional blogs simply won’t ship across the border, and for the life of me, I don’t know why.  When he saw me moaning on the subject, Steve stepped up and sent a copy for review, for which I thank him.    However, life got in the way and I have finally posted much later than expected, for which I apologize. 
 
My penance?  Downloading a copy of Naughty: Nine tales of Christmas Crime, which, when I think about it, really wasn’t any sort of punishment at all.  Trust me.
 
He also maintains a blog at stevehockensmith.com that is well worth a visit.

The Meowmorphosis: Coming to a shelf near you.

 “Gregor’s future is a bit fuzzy.”

For those of you who’ve always been a little squeamish about bugs and therefore unable to appreciate Kafka’s  Metamorphosis, you’ve stumbled into a bit of luck.  Quirk Classics fully appreciates your fears and has endeavoured to do something about it.  They commissioned Cook Coleridge  to add a bit of fluff (of the furball variety) to Kafka’s tail…er, tale?

The Meowmorphosis, on shelves May 10, 2011.

Monster Hunter Vendetta-Larry Correia

“When Monsters have nightmares, they’re dreaming about us.”  MHI Company Handbook

When we last met with Owen Zavasta Pitt, he was still reeling from the discovery that the world as he knew it was not the world as it is.  Monsters are real, the government has a black ops division of the F.B.I. that deals with them, and after a nasty run in with his manager at work (who was also a recent convert to lycanthropy), Pitt discovers that the life of an accountant may not be for him.   Monster Hunter-yes; middle management drone-no.

Fast forward a year, and we find Owen in a state of relative contentment.  He’s managed to save the World at least once, met (and courted) the girl of his dreams, and does a job that he loves for a salary that makes life quite comfortable.  Everything should be gravy, right?

Well, not so much.

You see, during the course of saving the world from the evil forces of another dimension, Owen attracted the attention of an elder God.  Apparently, destroying the artifact that would allow it to enter our dimension and slaying a multitude of its acolytes merits attention, as did the tactical nuclear weapon delivered into its posterior, courtesy of the U. S. government.  Owen’s not to blame for that, but someone’s got to take the fall, and the Old One (picture Lovecraft’s Cthulu) has decided Owen shall be the one.  Ironic that a bounty hunter should have his own bounty. 

Owen is blissfully unaware of  either the nuke or the bounty, contentedly hunting down chupacabras  and keeping the Mexican Riviera safe for both the locals and drunken Spring break kids.  So, it comes as a surprise to him when he gets a knock on the door, and then a subsequent knock on the head, from a mysterious Englishman, a shadowman of sorts, who remains incorporeal in the shade, but packs a real punch in the light of day.  Nor does it help that he’s brought a truckload of Zombies with him and released them on the resort’s party-goers.

Fast forward a couple of hours and poor Owen is stuck in a Mexican prison accused of multiple murder and disavowed by his own government.  If that’s not enough, while there, he gets a visit from his in-laws.  At the best of times that can be a pain in the neck, but when your in-laws are also Vampires of the nastiest sort, metaphor and reality can become mixed up.  Lucky for him though, they subscribe to the adage that, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and have come to Owen with a proposition. 

The Englishman is a necromancer, and being Undead themselves, they don’t really want to become enthralled to him, hence, a truce and an alliance.  However, Owen has a problem being allied with the Undead, subscribing to the less known adage that, “the enemy of my enemy is sometimes also my enemy,” so that idea is a no go. 

You really don’t want to say “no” to Owen’s mother in law.  You. Really. Don’t.

Okay, Evil necromancer on one side, Evil Undead on the other.  Should be enough to deal with, right?

Aha, let’s not forget about the United States government.

Yep, that’s right, that same government that ticked off the Elder God.  Specifically, the Monster Control Bureau, a subsidiary of the Department of Justice and royal pain in the ass under the leadership of one Agent Myers, himself a former MHI alumni (with a grudge).  They’ve been following the movements of the shadowman and his cult organization, “The Sanctified Church of the Temporary Mortal Condition,” and now want to use Owen as bait to draw out their leader.  With that, the stage is set for a rollicking story full of non-stop action as Owen and his compatriots try to thwart the plans of the Death Cult, deal with a government agency that would rather see them disbanded, and as a byproduct of stopping the shadowman, keep him alive. 

 There are a lot of things to love in a Correia novel.  His writing is both witty and so fast paced that you don’t want to put the book down for any reason while you’re reading it, and feel a sense of dissatisfaction when you get to the end and realize it’s over.  His take on the supernatural is both quirky and refreshing, taking accepted mythology and turning it on its head.  In the first novel, we’re introduced to the Trailer Park Elves; this time around, it’s a gang of garden Gnomes.  And I do mean, “Gang.”  (If those THUG LIFE tats don’t tip it off, the sawed off shotguns and turf wars will.)  Fans of his first novel also get several questions answered, such as:

  • What’s the deal with Agent Franks? (and really, shame on me for not figuring it out earlier)
  • Why the animosity between Agent Myers and Earl Harbinger, and what does it have to do with one Martin Hood?
  • What’s the reason for Owen’s dad training him from birth to be a survivalist?
  • Who is Mr. Trash Bags, anyway?

Honestly, the Monster Hunter series reminds me a lot of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, with Owen playing a role very similar to Harry Dresden, the difference being that while Owen is a bounty hunter, Harry is a detective.   Both series are thoroughly enjoyable and a great addition to the genre.  It’s going to kill me to wait until July of this year for the release of the third book of the series, Monster Hunter AlphaIn the meantime, if you’d like to keep abreast of Larry’s writing projects (and other interesting stuff), he maintains a blog at Monster Hunter Nation that you can check out.

(p.s. Want to read about the Trailer Park Elve’s?  Larry’s got a nice little story about them over at Baen Books)

Quirks Classics: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:Dawn of the Dreadfuls

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the DreadfulsWhile scrolling on-line today for reviews of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith, I came across a well thought out review on Den of the Geek!  From there, it was a quick jump to Quirk Classics to check out the rest of their inventory and discover that their next adorable abomination will be a new take on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, only with Robots!  Well, androids actually, hence the title…Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters.

I’m sure some are mortified by Quirks take on such classics, but they’re a campy and fun addition to both the Monster Mash genre and an if you look at it with the right frame of mind…an homage to the originals.

And it has such a lovely trailer…

American Gods:An Odyssey.

AmericanGods_MassMarketPaperback_1185415388Belief is a powerful concept.  A loaded concept.  One man’s belief can be anothers heresy, and belief has been the driving factor behind most historical events, both eminently Good and supremely Evil.  Belief fueled the race to land a man on the Moon, the Civil Rights Movement, and the virtual eradication of many diseases.  It has also resulted in the Jim Jones Massacre, Slavery, and the  insane ideologies of both Fascism and Communism…two world views that have demonstrably  cost more lives in the past century than any Religion.  Yet we all yearn to believe in something, whether it be secular or metaphysical…even the Atheist has faith in something…or rather…nothing.  We need belief, in ideas, in movements, in various Deities.  Without belief, life would be empty and meaningless. 

Neil Gaiman decided to look at the the opposite side of the coin, asking, “what if these various Gods and ideas we pray to need our belief just as much as we do?”  What if their very existence depends on our belief and that without it, they wither and die?  Furthermore, what if, in these days of science and technology, the old Gods were being superseded by the new: Gods of Television, Fashion, and all those things we worship in our everyday life without even realizing it?   Finally, what if they decided the World was not big enough for the both of them?  American Gods is that story.

Gaiman’s novel tells the story of a war between those ascendant (the new Gods of Science and Entertainment) squared off against the diminished (think of the Norse, the Greek, the Egyptian…any Gods no longer actively believed in but relegated to mythic status) in a land that does not hold room (or belief) for both.  It is told through the eyes of one human participant, aptly named Shadow, an ex-con down on his luck.  Recently released from prison only to find his wife is dead, Shadow expects to live a listless existence, no longer caring about the world at large.  He’s not really alive, it’s just that he hasn’t died yet, and when a mysterious grifter going by the name of “Wednesday” makes him a simple offer, he reluctantly agrees…after all, he’s got nothing better to do.

During the course of his travels with Wednesday, Shadow interacts with almost the entire Pantheon of human belief, from the old Gods Odin, Osiris, and the less well known Anansi,  to the new Gods of Television and Technology.  (Technology himself ironically appears in the form of a pimply teenager, supremely confident in his abilities until he comes across a dead zone for cell signals…a bit of a nod to nerds everywhere)  He comes to find these Gods as vain and petty as man, obsessed with being remembered and desired, and in the midst of the war, finds himself a small part in a con game being played on man and Deity alike.  Yet his small role turns out to be pivotal to the conflict and to thwarting the machinations of those who want neither side to win but are rather more concerned that the conflict take place.  As does his parentage.

American Gods is a masterfully written tale and food for the fantasy junky. 

 (American Gods, William Morrow Publishing: 461 pp.)