Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This Is How It Shall Be Ever After

This review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous books in the trilogy, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Dawn of the Dreadfuls, or don't mind knowing some of what happens in them. Dreadfully Ever After, however, will remain spoiler-free.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by Eric Smith at Quirk Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Dreadfully Ever After
~Dreadfully Ever After~
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Book 3
By Steve Hockensmith
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Elizabeth Darcy has everything a woman could ask for: a large estate, a steady income, a husband she loves and who loves her... Then why is it that lately she can't even bring herself to smile?

Not that there's much to smile about with the zombie menace still vexing England. But the lingering threat is made deadly personal when Darcy is bitten by one of the stricken! Despite knowing it is her duty to behead and burn any soul befallen the plague, Lizzy cannot bring herself to kill her beloved. Not if there could be the slightest chance of a cure.

However, to obtain this supposed cure Elizabeth must place everything on the line. Her honor, her pride, and her family hang in the balance... Love is a strong motivator, but will it be enough to save all she holds dear?

The real question is: If Mr. Darcy became infected, would Elizabeth have the fortitude to behead him in time?— (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)

Apparently, Steve Hockensmith decided that question was well worth answering. In this sequel to the zombie-infested hit, we find Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy four years into their marriage. But while the unmentionables are still roaming the countryside, there's little room for wedded bliss. Especially since, as a married woman, honor and decorum has forced Lizzy to give up the blade.

That, I think, was my first problem with this book. Even if society demanded it, I can't see Lizzy succumbing to stupid mandates such as these. Nor could I see her husband enforcing them. Their understanding of each other at the end of the previous book seemed to indicate an equality and respect toward the deadly arts. I just don't think it reasonable (or believable) that four years have passed without Elizabeth wielding blade or staff against Satan's army.

This complaint aside, we don't have to wait too long before Lizzy dons her weapons again. In fact, by page 34 we are treated to an artful slaying using a razor-bladed parasol with sword-handle! Unfortunately, that is just about all we see of Elizabeth Darcy's fighting for the entire novel. On the whole, her role disappointed me the most. I was intrigued by her reluctance/fear of bearing children (learned on page 14), but that was really the only nuance her character offered through the whole, despite the main plot being initiated/centered on her plight.

Actually, the majority of the narration was spent on Kitty, Mary, and Darcy. Kitty and Mary were fun to follow as they matured and grew into independent women. Unfortunately I also felt their journeys weren't nearly as satisfying as Elizabeth's in the previous book, probably because they were compacted into side-plots. If they had been given their own books... Darcy's story, on the other hand, was less an exploration of his character and more an exploration into the psyche of a dreadful as it turns. Slightly intriguing, but not altogether welcome as a distraction from the plot we are teased with from the summary.

Most of the secondary characters are familiar to us through either Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or its post-written prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls. Anne de Bourgh struck me as very similar to Luna Lovegood at first—a bit wistful and dreamy—but she quickly veered off that course and became much creepier than anticipated. I can't say her story was completely unexpected, but I did find it satisfying for as little space as she had. Mr. Quayle was identifiable instantly, and I was also pleased at his finish, though again I wished more space was available to him. New characters suffered similarly.

Unlike the other books in this series, Dreadfully Ever After is not really a comedy. Much more of the prose is focused on gore and horrid depictions of death, disease, and mauling. There is definitely a lot more blood spurting here than in previous installments, and some were lingered on long enough to make me queasy. Language was stronger as well. Though only one remembered instance of a curse (female dog), there are also many untranslated French sayings, Japanese speech, and antique British words that readers may need to research their meanings.

On an editing note, I was extremely perturbed at the amount of typos. Luckily, there weren't too many altogether, but there was one recurring one that I never could quite figure out. The mental hospital where the cure is supposedly housed is referenced throughout the novel...yet it's done one of two ways. It is either the "Bedlam" Hospital or "Bethlem" Hospital. On page 141 it's called by both names in the space of two paragraphs! And it was mirrored in the audiobook as well, so I couldn't find preference there either. I can only wish that a final decision is reached in future editions.

Perhaps most disappointing to me was the end of the novel. The final chapter, taking up the last 5 pages, uses the perspective of, God help us, the ever oblivious Mrs. Bennet. We are merely given a rundown of the current physical state of the family members, effectively robbing us of any main character resolution whatsoever. I'll grant that this does give an 'open ending' to the novel, letting the reader draw her own conclusions, but it does absolutely nothing for the uncertainties that have arisen throughout the novel. The last line of the previous chapter was much more satisfactory an ending, such that I wish the last chapter had been left off altogether!

As I've touched on above, I think this book suffers mostly from disorganization and overcrowding. There are five storylines vying for attention—Elizabeth's quest for a cure, Kitty's maturation/romance, Mary's maturation/romance, Darcy's progress toward Dreadfuldom, and a commentary on England's plight as a whole—and with only 287 pages none of them really gets their full due. Not only that, but with them switching from one to another each chapter, you end up hating the current storyline for intruding on the previous, then just as you come to accept/tolerate it, it switches again! Perhaps if less were included, more focus could have been given to what was left.

Overall, this novel is not nearly as strong as its predecessors, but serves as an interesting exploration further into the Pride and Prejudice and Zombie universe. While the developments to some of the previously secondary characters were welcome, the excess of competing storylines serves to diminish the full impact the book might otherwise serve. I would recommend this to readers who already enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as it's prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, penned by the same author as the sequel. This book is not nearly as humorous as its previous installments, so would most likely be enjoyed by those more zombie-inclined than fans of satire. Still, it was a welcome final chapter in the saga of Bennets vs zombies, though I'm sure some fans will be as unwilling as the undead in giving it up.

Approximate Reading Time: 5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Katherine Kellgren
Length: 9.2 Hours
Listened at 1.9x Speed
Once again Kellgren guides us through Regency England with a flare only an English accent can give. The Bennet sisters came to life through her lively narration, and I was especially impressed with her wider range of male voices this time around. Perhaps it was because there was ultimately a smaller number of them, but I was pleased to be able to easily identify each speaker after only a few syllables. Most impressive was the Scottish speaker, Angus MacFarquhar, whose harsh accent and rolled R's was always a fun interlude from the subdued British speech.

Though I was surprised and happy to find this audiobook to be released with or soon after the book, I'm sorry to say that it suffers for it. Any defects found in the original text are uncorrected in the audio, especially concerning the "Bedlam"/"Bethlem" debate. Still, I'd recommend this to anyone wanting to finish the trilogy, for Kellgren provides a consistently great performance.