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.
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Night of the Living Trekkies-Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall

 

  “They thought Space was the Final Frontier–They were wrong.”

 

Jim Pike is a man tortured by the events of his past.  An Afghanistan veteran in the throes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Jim has seen the bloodiest aspects of war and no longer wants the responsibility that came with his service.  In fact, he doesn’t want any real responsibility whatsoever, haunted as he is by the loss of several members of his platoon.  So, security guard at the Botany Bay Hotel and Conference Centre in the lovely town of Houston seems like the perfect fit. After all, the worst thing he’s going to have to deal with this weekend is a bunch of Star Trek geeks attending the annual GulfCon Star Trek convention.  Or so he thinks…(cue ominous music)

Just down the road the  Johnson Space Centre has been put into lockdown mode and convention goers are complaining about poor to nonexistent cell phone reception.  Even the televisions seem to be on the fritz.  To top off his day, Jim’s supervisor is missing, half the staff hasn’t shown up for work, and his sister Rayna is coming to town, bringing along a motley collection of Star Trek fans such as:

  • Matt Stockard–Wunderkind software developer drunk on his own dubious fame and possible paramour of Rayna’s (at least in his mind)
  • Gary Severin–Matt’s nominal boss, a stereotypically obese Sci-fi nerd and the foil of Matt’s excessive personality (picture comic book guy in a trek outfit)
  • T’Poc—Matt’s executive assistant and the girl who’s looking to hook up with Jim while wearing a suggestive outfit from the Star Trek Mirror Universe.

During the course of the next several hours, Jim’s finely honed sense of danger (which he first exhibited in Afghanistan while on patrol with his squad) keeps going off, but he’s too overwhelmed with the staff disappearances and his desire to connect with his sister to listen to them.  That is, until his manager points out that anyone leaving the complex for a smoke…never comes back.  Things quickly degenerate from there to an all out battle to stay alive in a convention centre populated by what at first glance appears to be the living dead.  Jim soon comes to realize that things are not what they seem, they’re even worse, and that the monstrous hordes may have an extraterrestrial connection to recent events at the Space centre involving the Genesis probe.  Luckily, a NASA exobiologist by the name of Sandoval may have the answers to their dilemna…if only they can find him before the Zombies do.

In the course of rounding up Rayna and her friends and trying to find a safe haven within the Hotel complex to hole up and wait for help, Jim comes across a girl dressed in a slave outfit (a la Princess Leia from Return of the Jedi).  Strangely enough, she’s handcuffed to a bed with a video camera set up.  Leia (not her real name) got herself mixed up in a little Star Trek dominatrix video and like everyone else, just wants to get out of Dodge.  Add one Klingon with a Bat’leth,  a guy in a red shirt with the unfortunate name “Willy Makit” (sound it out phonetically and you’ll get the joke) and the carnage begins.

The authors of Night of the Living Trekkies have created a unique perspective  on the Zombie genre.  Rather than those horror novels that leave the explanation of the Zombie outbreak to the reader’s imagination, they come up with an explanation of Zombism that has a scientific element to it.  The pathogen is extraterrestrial, much like in the Andromeda Strain with one twist…this time those affected don’t stay dead. 

Anderson and Stall are clearly Star Trek fans and have jam packed their novel with references both obvious and obscure.  Each chapter title is an homage to the original episodes, and Jim Pike’s name is a subtle reference to both Jim Kirk and the Enterprise’ first captain, Christopher PikeEven Dr. Sandoval’s name is a reference to a character in the original series (spoiler alert!) with a similar problem. 

Night of the Living Trekkies departs from your usual fan fiction…it’s actually good!  With a fast pace and interesting (although predictible) cast of characters, Night of the Living Trekkies takes the reader on a bloody yet satisfying journey into the world of Star Trek fandom while adding more than a dash of horror to complete the picture.

Publisher Quirk books has engaged on a unique marketing campaign to promote this book, investing in a faux movie trailer on youtube to showcase their author’s work.  Here’s hoping a full length feature is in the future.

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Quirk Classics

 

Quirk Classics certainly lives up to its name.

A quirky (pun very much intended) little publishing house, Quirk Classics has found its niche bridging the gulf between cultured literature and pop culture.  In other words, they’ve blended the classics with modern kitsch to create both a Frankenstein like creature and a new genre of fiction.  Or, as they put it, “To enhance classic novels with pop culture phenomena.”

A Monster Mash of sorts (Classical Mash?), they’ve filled the need (and based on the plethora of copycat novels apparently there was one) in readers for a new look at such titles as Pride and Prejudice (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Sense and Sensibility (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters), and (hey, why not?)…Anna Karenina (Android Karenina).

Their modus operandi is to grab up a public domain title (apparently Jane Austen is an easy target), get an author to add and subtract text…but just enough to alter the storyline without destroying the original…and voila!  Elizabeth Bennett becomes not so much an old maid looking for a Husband but rather a kick ass undead rekilling machine! Marianne Dashwood is courted by a fellow who resembles Davy Jones much more than an English Dandy.  And Anna Karenina…well, who wouldn’t love a Russian epic…now with more androids!

However, Quirk is not averse to original fiction…as long as it follows the formula of combining genres.  The first foray into 100% original fiction was a prequel to P&P&Z called Dawn of the Dreadfuls, an amusingly horrifying tale of the Bennetts’ daughter’s coming of age in a world beset by the undead.  Quirks latest publication is Night of the Living Trekkies, an oddball blend of Science Fiction and Zombies, Sci Fi conventions and mayhem (okay, that’s probably not a stretch), and virgins and…well…more virgins I guess…

Jane Austen…Zombie Destroyer

The Zombie…a mindless, shambling, relentless denizen of the underworld, and naturally the subject of many a lowbrow horror novel.  Yet in a new twist on an old idea, Jane Austen has unwittingly, (and posthumously), co-authored a Zombie novel of her own.  “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (Quirk books…$17.95 Can.) is a unique blend of old world Romanticism and New World Schlock.  Her co-author, Seth Grahame-Smith has taken Ms. Austen’s timeless tale and blended into it a mix of the classic and the macabre (85% original material/15% Zombies) and put a whole new spin on the pre-Victorian world of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett.

For an interesting review, see Ann McDowell’s take on his reworking of a classic at the Mount Holyoke News.

In an interview with the L.A. Times entertainment correspondent, Carolyn Kellogg, Grahame-Smith fleshes out  his quirky take on the timeless novel…how the characters live a zombie-like existence, frittering too and fro without much thought…so why not put them in situations where they must fight their own apathy, albeit  in a  physical form?

Grahame-Smith explains to the Toronto Star’s Vit Wagner why a novel by Jane Austen is ripe for the monster mash.  Two words…Public Domain. 

Poor Jane must be rolling over in her grave…

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