Allison's Book Bag

Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith

Posted on: May 29, 2011

Jane Austen be gone! Astute readers will notice the absence of Jane Austen’s name from the byline of second book in the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trilogy. With good reason, for Austen never wrote a prequel. Yet if she were around today, she might have written Dawn of the Dreadfuls. Minus the zombies, of course.

In the movies, zombies are often nameless until one of the heroes is bitten. Then we experience the horror of seeing beloved characters turn into monsters. This plays havoc with our emotions, as a kitten toys with a ball of yarn. We want the newly infected to live; yet we know their salvation will mean the community’s damnation. In contrast to the movies, the first two zombies to appear in Dawn of the Dreadful are known to our heroes, the Bennets, and so everyone is thrown immediately into emotional chaos. To my chagrin, these random zombie awakenings develop into throngs of rampaging cannibalistic dead. I preferred reading about the smaller encounters, such as the captured zombie whom one of Elizabeth’s suitors tries to humanize. Whereas the attack of Lord Lumpley’s home resembles epic CGI scenes, diminishing some of the humanity that attracted me to a book about zombies.

Zombie

Image via Wikipedia

Yet like its predecessor, the zombie scenes are among the best parts of the book: “Two dreadfuls looked her way. They were on the other side of the clearing, turned toward each other, as if they had been chatting away like two friendly neighbors….” The rest of the scene goes onto vividly depict the clothes, skin, hair, and even facial expressions of the zombies. Hockensmith could have broadly painted every zombie scene; instead for the most part he portrays zombies as vividly as the humans: “A moan from the front of the church broke up the tussle. It started low, almost literally so, as if bubbling up from the depths of the earth, a distant wail from Hell itself. Then it built to a high, piercing howl…. It was a cry that hadn’t been heard in Hertfordshire for years, yet everyone there knew what it was. The zombie wail.’ Eerie!

Hockensmith is equally careful with the love scenes. While her five daughters put away their fine clothing and forego formal balls to become zombie hunters, Mrs. Bennet remains her feminine self. Yet even she is effected by the war. When her husband converts her greenhouse into a “dojo” and retreats there to teach their daughters to fight, Mrs. Bennet becomes lonely and susceptible to the wooing of an old flame. Despite being uninvited from a ball due to their warrior ways, the girls also dabble with romance: The oldest daughter Jane wins the eyes of many suitors who consider her the nicest creature God ever created, Elizabeth garners attention from a ninja master and from a scientist, and even Mary has infatuations. Through these entanglements, familiar motifs in Austen’s novel of a woman’s place in society, along with the notion of what true love is, are explored and make Dawn of the Dreadfuls timeless and universal. At some point, all of us face societal expectations, “monsters,” and love.

I faulted Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for its dark tone. There are still occasional violent lines in its prequel: “dip me in honey and stake me to an anthill”. Yet for the most part, Hockensmith injects a lighter tone into Dawn of the Dreadfuls. I believe his dedication: “To Jane, we kid because we love.” Although sometimes the tongue-in-cheek humor is overdone, it saves the book from slipping into the dark side. So does his betrayal of the Bennet girls. They are innocent children and I grew fond of the less frivilous-gossipy older siblings. True, as their tale progresses, I glimpsed signs of the hardening process. I understand to a certain extent why Elizabeth becomes almost as heartless when an adult as the zombies she tries to kill. Yet in her youth, I see her mostly as heartbroken and sympathetic.

Hockenmith’s failings are minor. In the first few chapters, no valid reason is given for why one Bennet girl is picked over another for battle. Although Dawn of the Dreadfuls is mostly told from an omniscient viewpoint focused on the Bennets, some chapters take us into the head of Lord Lumpley. Again, this seems like a random choice. And sorry, but the ninjas and Eastern references still don’t seem to fit.

Otherwise, Dawn of the Dreadfuls is a remarkable achievement. Hockensmith has written in the spirit of Austen, yet without her words. I can’t wait to read the final installment!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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