Allison's Book Bag

Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith

Posted on: June 4, 2011


For those of you have read the origins of Allison’s Book Bag, you might recall that the idea for me to start writing reviews of all the books I loved to read came from my husband. Since then, he has faithfully read and edited every review. We also sometimes bounced around the idea of our sharing a review.

It seems fitting that on this near anniversary (my blog went live on June 6, 2010) of Allison’s Book Bag, we are posting our first “dueling review.” I hope you enjoy reading our reactions to the final installment of the bestselling Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trilogy.

ALLISON

The first book in the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trilogy created the mash-up genre, whereby a classic text is preserved but popular aspects of modern culture are integrated. In the case of the PPZ trilogy, zombies and to a lesser extent ninjas and Shintoism were added. The latter two elements still feel more intrusive than fun. As for the final installment to the trilogy, Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith is actually a parallel novel rather than a mash-up, in that it offers an entirely new tale about classic characters. Unfortunately, in being such, it has not swayed me to like parallel novels.

I held certain expectations for Dreadfully Ever After. For example, I expected it to  pick up with the wedding of the two oldest Bennet sisters or perhaps with their children. It does open with them being married. However, Elizabeth has lost her joy for  life, which isn’t how I envisioned the marriage between her and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Moreover, Darcy is bitten very early in the book by a zombie, causing Elizabeth to leave him in the care of Aunt Catherine to seek a cure, and so our heroes spend the bulk of the book apart . Having disapproved of their marriage in the first place, Aunt Catherine now does everything to keep the two apart. Dreadfully Ever After is more often than not about everyone but our lovely couple.

Although the prequel Dawn of the Dreadfuls was also a parallel novel, in that drew only upon original characters and not upon an original manuscript to explain how the Bennet family became hardened warriors, Austen’s spirit remained. In contrast, while I enjoyed seeing some of Austen’s more minor characters being developed in Dreadfully Ever After, I felt out of touch with the original lead characters. True, when the spotlight is on the two youngest Bennet sisters, the book shines. They are feisty and courageous in the same manner that Elizabeth had been in the earlier books. When similarly conflicted about whether to pursue men or take up arms, they also attempt to find a balance in the way that their older sisters had in the earlier books. Yet to my disappointment, Elizabeth sometimes wimps out and other times feels like ice queen. Shouldn’t I care most about her? Shouldn’t the love story between her and Darcy most endear me?

The zombies were surprisingly one of my favorite parts of the first two books. Unfortunately, in Dreadfully Ever After, they no longer feel like beloved former members of society but simply despicable creatures to be eradicated. In the first two books, the zombies were meticulously described. Consequently, I cringed over their destruction. Now they could be cars in a demolition derby for how little I am led to care. Our heroes have suffered a similar fate in becoming superhuman warriors. They are too eager to show off their killing skills. Again, this feels like a mistake: Aren’t we supposed to look up to our heroes?

This lackluster sequel has not diminished my delight in the mash-up genre, but has rather reinforced my antipathy for parallel novels. I still look forward to reading Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Meowmorphis, and whatever other delights that Quirk Books produces.

ANDY

I came to this book from a completely different angle than Allison. I have not read the first two books in this series, or even the original Jane Austen novel. And so the only basis for my reaction to it is how I felt about IT.

And for the first few chapters, I didn’t care for it. Even with the occasional herd of zombies, it felt a bit stuffy to me. There was too much marital chitchat and too little anything else. And like Allison, I didn’t particularly care for the zombies or the martial arts.

The zombies are objects. Even when Elizabeth knew the person who a zombie used to be, this familiarity does not seem to faze her. A zombified acquaintance might as well be a metal duck at a shooting gallery.

Stencil ninja fighter

Image via Wikipedia

The martial arts are an even bigger problem for me. It’s not so much the martial arts themselves but the characters’ complete mastery of them. Elizabeth and her sisters are so skilled in the martial arts that the zombie encounters are never a cause for worry. Modern action movies have the same problem, in that they depict nearly super-human heroes who can fire two guns simultaneously without looking while doing a back flip out of the path of a missile, which explodes in a gorgeous fireball as they dive to safety in slow motion. Action is not exciting when performed by impervious cartoons. Every zombie battle in Dreadfully Ever After is like this. So much so that, for comedic effect, the characters don’t even pause their discussions as they slice and dice. But then, I suppose it can be argued that these scenes are intended to be comedic rather than exciting. To which I would ask whether they couldn’t have been both.

All that being said, once I had moved past the first few chapters I did enjoy the book. When the characters begin their search for the zombie cure, the story gets interesting. Elizabeth and Kitty attempt to seduce the men who may have developed the cure. Darcy gets to know his cousin Anne better as he hovers halfway between humanity and zombihood. As for Mary, I very much enjoyed her burgeoning relationship with the limbless Mr. Quayle, who is confined to a three-wheeled box pulled by two dogs named (amusingly) Ell and Arr.

ALLISON

As an Austen fan, I found this book the toughest to finish. So many of the zombie scenes felt like mob depictions that I kept wishing that I had introduced Andy to one of the earlier books. Consider this eerie description from Dawn of the Dreadfuls which, when I showed him, prompted Andy to ask if he could read the trilogy backwards: “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.”  Now compare it to this bland description: “Some were men, some were women, some whole, some disfigured, some as new to death as the previous autumn, some little more than rag-wrapped skeletons.”

So many of the characters also seem so far removed from anyone I know or could hope to know. In Dawn of the Dreadfuls, Elizabeth can’t initially stomach killing a zombified friend. Although her subsequent battles as a single adult naturally hardened her, I had hoped love would subsequently soften her. Then too, even in the midst of their battles as adults, all the Bennet sisters seemed to have maintained enough humanity to feel uncomfortable about killing child zombies. In contrast, when a young neighborhood boy bites Darcy in the first chapter of this book, Elizabeth’s reaction is to grab “it” and aim a kick at its head that could have split a boulder. When people stop flinching at murder, don’t they lose some of what makes them human? And if they are losing their souls, how far are they from becoming zombies themselves? Hints of these themes crept into the first two books, but exploration of any ideas except feminism have all but disappeared in the last.

I agree with Andy that the book gained momentum. My favorite scenes occurred when younger sisters Kitty and Mary appeared. I also liked the interactions between Anne and Darcy, along with the twist that develops from them. Unfortunately, by the time these scenes really develop, Hockensmith had kind of lost me as an interested participant. I was reading the book to finish it for review purposes than out of any pleasure it gave me. The good stuff came a little too late.

ANDY

If I may continue to beat the dead horse I began beating earlier, I really see the blasé attitude of the sisters towards zombie deconstruction as a continuation of the disease that has taken hold of action movies. There is a preoccupation with “cool” these days, where being cool seems to consist of doing impossibly-amazing things while remaining emotionless. So here we have the Bennet sisters chopping and blending and liquefying their way through zombie hordes without a care in the world, perhaps with a future film adaptation in mind.

Quick quiz for you, Allison: What is the name of the group of nameless, faceless killing machines depicted in this book? Yes, it’s a trick question.

ALLISON

The zombies? The Bennets? The Ninjas? You know what? Frankly, there are too many choices to give you just one answer.

ANDY

You caught onto the trick of my question, although I wouldn’t put the Bennets in that group, as they were neither nameless nor faceless. The answer I was actually going for was: the ninjas. Although the zombies are mostly nameless, with a few exceptions, and while they may not be described in as much detail as they were in the earlier books, they nevertheless are described. They are memorable in various disgusting ways, which Hockensmith clearly enjoys sharing with his readers. The ninjas, however, despite being human, are even more objectified. We occasionally get a name, but that’s about it. Most do not know any English, and so we do not have to be bothered with their thoughts or feelings. They serve their masters with unquestioning loyalty, just as Ell and Arr serve Mr. Quayle. Disturbingly, they are the least human of all the characters in this book, undead included. Given what we eventually learn about the nature of the zombie plague, this seems a bit hypocritical. We are given a single ninja, Mr. Nezu, so at least the ninjas are allowed a representative. I’m not saying that every ninja should have been a three-dimensional character, but with an extra paragraph here or there they could have been fleshed out a little better than a swarm of ants.

But again I will retreat from the above criticism to say that I did like the book. It is possible to like a book despite finding flaws. In fact, I liked it enough that I wonder if I could enjoy the first book in the series as much, given that most of its text comes from the original Austen novel. As I said, I haven’t read the original Austen novel, but I imagine it to be a lot of squabbling over minor differences in social status, and fretting over who loves who. Are there enough zombies and ninjas to get me through it?

ALLISON

It’s funny that you should dislike the portrayal of the ninjas in this book, given that it is only in this book that we finally see them doing more than beating up zombies or other enemies. We even see a somewhat human side to Mr. Nezu. In this book, they at least come across as somewhat integral to the story.

We have not yet talked about the numerous references to Eastern culture. Words like dojo, geisha, mantra, and shrine are thrown about. Zombies can live anywhere, but since when are the English gentry so immersed in Asian culture? Remember, this novel takes place in the nineteenth century when fewer modes of transportation were available, not to mention in London. It seemed unreal and, um, modern. Again, zombies can live in any age.

Would you like the other two books? While the first book helped me appreciate the original classic all over again, I admit that I wondered throughout which appealed to me the most: the romance or the zombies. There were parlor talk scenes and dance scenes where I could see men losing interest. Yet Austen is funny and observant about life. If you were to try her, a mash-up might be the way to start. Definitely, read the second, which is my favorite in the trilogy.

ANDY

I believe you told me that in the first book, ninjas were brought to England to help with the zombie plague. I guess that’s somewhat believable. But leaving them out of the story would have been at least as believable, if not more so. The zombies in these books are of the “traditional” shambling type that could certainly have been brought down with British axes, guns, knives, mallets, rocks, etc.

But that doesn’t mean the inclusion of ninjas was wrong. Obviously the whole point of these mash-ups is to take something “normal” and add something ridiculous. If someone who had not heard of this series were to ask you what you were reading, and you said “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” they couldn’t help chuckling. It has a wonderfully crazy sound to it. Throw ninjas into the mix and it sounds even wackier. I applaud the publisher and the authors for pushing the mash-up concept to the limits. I just personally wish the ninjas hadn’t been so disposable, and that the martial arts employed weren’t so balance shifting.

I think that’s about all I have to say about zombies, ninjas, and the British landed gentry. Do you have any final thoughts, Allison?

ALLISON

Yes, let’s end on a positive note. Even if this was not my favorite in the trilogy, I am sold on the mash-up genre. Thanks to Quirk Books, I now have the perfect recommendation for reluctant readers of classics. As for me, I will never look at Jane Austen in the same way again. Her books have become even more fun. And that has to be a good thing.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

Andy’s 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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2 Responses to "Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith"

I would not read this book, even if you didn’t review it (I have a disclaimer on my blog– it’s now a Zombie-Free Zone, lol) but I thought both of you gave an excellent review! Wow, just great! I particularly liked Andy’s idea that the martial arts resembled big Hollywood movies where the larger-than-life stars fight without slowing down! Lots of fun to read this post today- keep up the good work. Rae

Thanks! We put aside an afternoon to exchange thoughts. It was our couple time for the day. 🙂

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