Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls Review

// March 2nd, 2010 // Uncategorized

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I feel it’s important to disclose at the outset that I have more than a passing familiarity with the author of this book.  We have been friends since the early 90’s and I’ve enjoyed a certain vicarious thrill in watching him progress through his career.  We’ve even collaborated at various times, if I can use that word in a ham-handed manner to describe any contribution I may have made to our different projects, one such project being  a newsletter we published together for a now defunct rock band.  We shared a common sense of humor back then and would often laugh together at poorly written letters he would receive from madmen at the day gig he labored at.  But Steve’s career and mine took different paths and I lost touch with him as the years passed..

It was then a shock and delight for me to discover that Steve had been tapped to write the sequel/prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I had been a fan of PPZ since I first saw it.  I was a publishers wet dream, in fact, as PPZ had been a rare impulse purchase for me.  I had been in a bookstore buying a DVD and happened onto PPZ as I was standing in line to checkout.  Glancing at the cover, I knew immediately what it represented.  Now that is saying a lot when you consider that PPZ is conceptually a bit of a head scratcher.  How do you even go about pitching something like that to a publisher in an industry as beleaguered as the current  literary world is?  But, there it was and somehow I knew exactly what it was meant to be and bought it on impulse.  And of course PPZ delivered on its promise, sold a gazillion copies, got awards and all that good stuff.

But as much as I enjoyed the original PPZ, I had little urge to return for more.  I had been made to read Austen in high school and hated the experience.  As much as I appreciated the irony of bundling zombies with my boring, stuffy romance, one trip to the well was enough for me.  Further, it was seeming that more people were jumping on the literary mashup bandwagon and as much as I appreciate the business machinery needed to detect and exploit a trend, trends are for commoners and I certainly fancy myself to not be in that category.

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So how is it that I find myself not only reading a prequel but taking my time to write a review about the experience?  In part I suppose it’s because the author’s a friend of mine but in truth that only amounts to a fraction of my motivation.  The fact that Hockensmith would feel that the project is worthy of enough time and effort to actually write the book is compelling to me because his snobbish pedigree as a geek is beyond reproach.  This is the man who first managed to bring me back down to earth and inform me in no uncertain terms that The Phantom Menace did indeed suck and George Lucas had in fact, raped our childhoods (childrenhoods?).  Steve is a dude of absolute unflinching credibility when it comes to ferreting out which genre projects are good and which suck hind teat.  So if he feels like he has something of worth to add to the zombie / comedy / romance / literary mashup genre, then by gum I have little doubt of its value.

SPOILERS HO!

And that’s what I find most compelling about the book itself.  It’s an intelligent approach to a potentially tired genre.  How zombies behave, how they came to be zombies and most importantly how they are killed are all rules very carefully followed by the author.  It’s absolutely clear that Hockensmith has spent the same kind of time pondering these types of things that we as fanboys have.  At one point, we learn one of the characters has disguised himself as a zombie to try to figure out if they can detect him and if so, how.  Every true fan of zombie action films has found himself considering that point at some time in the past.  If zombies are stupid, witless creatures driven by animal instinct, why don’t they turn on each other?  What is that “zombie essence” that they sense in their zombie peers that causes them to dine on the living instead?  While it’s not necessarily essential that an entry in the zombie canon answer these types of questions, it absolutely is essential that the questions get posed in the first place.

For that matter, how does a zombie shit?  Or does it evacuate its bowels at all?  From a purely physiological standpoint, the zombie as a creature is bent on consuming living flesh so the assumption is there that the matter that is consumed at some point is processed and waste is produced.  These are the types of undead issues that have to be explored or else the piece of zombie fiction is hardly worth the effort to “consume” as a reader (or viewer in the case of zombie flicks).  As with other art forms, zombie literature has reached the point of deconstructionism.  Good zombie literature knows to explore and investigate as in Shaun of the Dead in the scene where the protagonists attempt to blend themselves in to the zombie horde.  Bad zombie literature, as is the case with the Jenna Jameson vehicle Zombie Strippers!, is too stupid to know better when they end up producing zombies that have the power of intelligent speech without ever really exploring what it really is beyond rotting flesh that constitutes a zombie in that universe.  Shame on you Jenna for exploiting fanboys so!

This book does a great job at slowly developing a sense of dread, which is of course another hallmark of zombie literature.  While the first 50 pages can be perceived as a tad slow moving, you eventually come to realize that the pacing is actually pretty carefully designed to contrast the earlier sections with the later chapters where the protagonists are under siege.  This is the most overt Romero /Dawn of the Dead reference in the book.  To me, this homage was very welcome and almost necessary if you’re going to reference Dawn as the title of the work.

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It’s important to take note of the artwork in this book.  As in the other Quirk titles, the prose is broken up nicely with “etching” style artwork.  These pieces not only add nice punctuations to the story but also make for a very satisfying literary package, something Quirk is now known for.  The artwork in DOD is leaps and bounds better than what was found in the original PPZ and really adds to the experience greatly.  It’s worth checking out the artist’s website which can be found here. I trust we’ll be seeing more from this artist in the future as he possesses a rare talent indeed.

In closing I’ll say that I enjoyed this book considerably more than the first PPZ.  The author here had the advantage of being able to play in the Austen universe (or Austenverse, I suppose) without necessarily being bound to the events of Pride and Prejudice.  This leant him a considerable advantage in avoiding some of the stuffy pitfalls the first novel faced.  Having said that, at times the book crosses the line into some campy territory and your mileage may vary as to how much of that you can tolerate.  All in all, I’d give it four severed zombie heads out of five.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the author, Steve Hockensmith and purchase his other novels.

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One Response to “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls Review”

  1. larry Stagg says:

    Great review! I’ve already pre-ordered my copy! I also stopped over and checked out the author’s website. What a strange man he must be to write in such bizarre genres. Do you know his normal shtick is cowboy mysteries? How on earth do you make a living doing that? I’m glad to see you’ve got your blog going!

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