I’ve had more than a few people express surprise that I haven’t read the “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” books. The reason I’ve avoided them, to be honest, is that I don’t much care for Jane Austen’s books. And now is when I shamefacedly confess that I only read one (Pride and Prejudice), under duress (for school), and had to read the book in one night because I’d procrastinated (not conducive to enjoyment of any book, really). So Austen has never really clicked with me; at times I’ve felt I really ought to revisit her works and see what I’ve been missing, but I’ve yet to follow through on the impulse because it feels more like an obligation. Like how I ought to eat more fiber or ought to watch congressional hearings.
But here is Dawn of the Dreadfuls, a prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and while it’s essentially a one-joke book, that joke is well executed and the book is a funny, fluffy mash-up of Regency manners and gruesome undead shenanigans.
In the pleasant English countryside, the Bennet family are attending the funeral of a local merchant when the boredom of the service is interrupted by a very unexpected turn of events. The dead man sits up and begins demanding brains. Most of the congregation flees in panic, but Bennet patriarch Oscar knows what to do, and demands that his eldest daughters, demure Jane and no-nonsense Elizabeth, watch. After Oscar takes care of the zombie, several revelations follow: This is not the first time England has been under threat from zombies, and Oscar Bennet was once a zombie fighter trained in a variety of fighting skills. Over the protestations of his wife, who thinks of nothing but marrying her daughters to the most eligible suitors possible, Oscar begins training his five daughters to put aside their dainty airs and become zombie killers. Complicating matters are local upper-class twit Lord Lumpley, handsome martial arts trainer Geoffrey Hawksworth, and a scientist who wants to learn more about the undead.
Dawn of the Dreadfuls (“dreadful” being polite society’s term for the undead – only ill-bred people use “the zed word”) is most amusing in its details. The giggle-inducing moments are the small ones – the comical dissoluteness of Lord Lumpley, the Bennet girls’ first attempt to sit cross-legged on the floor (utterly anathema to respectable ladies), and a clergyman’s unfortunate selection of reading material from Lord Lumpley’s library. The book doesn’t skimp on the grue either, with plentiful descriptions of rotting corpses, spilt innards and brains, and pools of blood. As to the book’s faithfulness to Austen’s themes, writing style, and characters, I couldn’t say (that one-night read of Pride and Prejudice was a long, long time ago).
Dawn of the Dreadfuls doesn’t linger in the memory – it’s like a meringue cookie: it’s pleasant at the time of consumption but doesn’t stay with you. However, it is suitable for a couple evenings’ worth of entertainment, provided the mix of genteel Englishness and undead hordes tickles your fancy.
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