(The following also appears in my column Papercut, a bi-monthly horror column that appears at Paperback Reader.)
I should make it clear up front that I did not like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith very much. When I reviewed it on Mail Order Zombie, I gave it a fairly low rating, describing the book as a joke that ran too long. There wasn't enough of a blending between the "classic regency romance" and the "zombie mayhem" to work as a balanced piece of fiction, and while I am enjoying Grahame-Smith's follow-up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies didn't do much for me.
However, the prequel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith (and Jane Austen) delivers on the promises of combining a piece of romantic literature with a zombie horror tale.
This book serves as a prequel in every way - the story takes place years before the events of the first novel, and right from the beginning, readers, and the main characters, are thrust into a world in which the dead walk.
The first zombie we meet - and the meeting takes place on the second page of the story - is unable to stand due to the accident that led to his death, but he still provides enough of a start, and a threat, to Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, as well as the rest of their family and those attending a funeral.
In Dawn of the Dreadfuls, those with a bit of age to them have encountered, or at least, heard of the "dreadfuls," and Mr. Bennet is one these folks. He recognizes the threat, takes control of the situation, and once it's resolved, decides to train his daughters in the martial arts. He even goes as far as calling his former master to help train them. All the while, Mrs. Bennet is more concerned with seeing her daughters married to good, wealthy families.
Obviously, Mr. Bennet and the zombies have other plans in mind.
I really enjoyed this book. I opened its covers with trepidation, expecting another clunky mash-up of a novel, but instead, Hockensmith opted to utilize a more modern writing style than the style I enountered in the first novel. Not only did this make the prose more approachable, but it also served to further draw the distinctions between the world of Mr. Bennet and the world of Mrs. Bennet. Dawn of the Dreadfuls is a zombie novel first and foremost, and Mrs. Bennet and what she wants out of life for herself and her daughters has no place in the world Hockensmith and Quirk Books present in near-300 fast pages.
On my podcast Mail Order Zombie, we rate books on a 1-to-5-Bookmarks scale, 1 being the lowest, 5 being the highest. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith earns an easy 4 Bookmarks. It's not high literature, but it's fun, it's easy to read and it doesn't skimp on the promised zombie action.
If Dawn of the Dreadfuls didn't completely leave me considering revisitting Grahame-Smith's original Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter gave me the extra prompting.
Set in a more "real world" alternative history than his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith's novel from Grand Central Publishing presents a story built from the secret journals of President Abraham Lincoln. The novel opens in present day, and writer Grahame-Smith introduces us to character Grahame-Smith . . . who happens to be a writer. The first few pages of the novel paints a picture of a man who once had ambitions of being a writer but found himself getting caugbht up in the life of a small-town, working in a small shop, watching his small life pass him by. Grahame-Smith, and we the readers, meet a man named Henry who presents the writer with a collection of books, the collective journals of Lincoln himself.
But these journals tell a story that no history book ever relates. In these pages, Grahame-Smith (the character) discovers a secret history of America in which whatever perceived wrongdoings that ultimately led to the American Civil War were perpetrated by vampires. It's a simple premise, yet Grahame-Smith (the writer) takes these imagined journals and turns them into a compelling novel that even those familiar with Lincoln or American history will find surprising and in some cases, even moving.
Aside from Grahame-Smith (the character) who only appears in the first few pages of the novel, Lincoln is the singular viewpoint character in this book, but I never found myself needing to get away from him. His story from start to finish pulled me through the novel; in circumstances in which another novel might "cut away" and give us the point of view of another character, we just skip ahead in Lincoln's life, advancing anywhere from a few months to a few years until the vampires either turn back up in Lincoln's life, or Lincoln turns back up in theirs.
Inserted into the narrative are excerpts from Lincoln's journals, providing the more intimate thoughts of the main character whereas the bulk of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter's text rests on top of the character of Lincoln. Not only does his crusade against slavery, his fight to keep the Union in one piece, his hope to raise and grow old with his family weigh him down, so do the choices he makes to fight vampires wherever and whenever he can.
The inclusion of the Grahame-Smith character seemed a bit out of place to me as the character does not turn up again at the end of the book. Instead, we're given a view of a near-vampire-free world in the post-Lincoln years courtesy of another viewpoint character, rendering the opening pages in which the writer is presented with Lincoln's journal superflous and unnecessary. Unfortunately, this does leave the reader wishing for a bit more closure. Fortunately, it doesn't hinder the rest of the book, and I can highly recommend it.
You can win one of 50 Quirk Classics Prize-Packs just by clicking here! The prize-pack is worth more than $100.00, and includes the following: a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies journal, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies postcards, audio books of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, an advance copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, a password redeemable online for sample audio chapters of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls and a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls poster. Contest closes on March 10, 2010, with winners announced March 11, 2010.
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