Monday, June 27, 2011

A Zombie In Possession of Brains

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
~Pride and Prejudice and Zombies~
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Book 2
By Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem.

As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield. Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry?

Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses,
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read.*

I'll go ahead and say it now: I am an Austen fan. I wasn't always one, though. I first read Pride and Prejudice in preparation for Senior Year IB English. I HATED it! I was bored to tears—I couldn't get over how many words were used to describe NOTHING. However, by re-reading at a slower pace during the class, I was able to have my brain phase over the unnecessary/frivolous/verbose text and actually process the characters and plot. And I LOVED it. I'm really not one to read fluffy romances, but this wasn't fluffy, it was...interesting! Quite the flip-flop, eh?

Then came the sudden surge of Austen-centered movies. I saw Becoming Jane and Jane Austen Book Club (haven't read the book yet) and fell in love with both. I even resolved to do as they did in the latter and read all of Jane's books. Well, that still hasn't happened, but the resolve is still there and I'll do it one of these days. I did, however, read Northanger Abbey and once again fell in love with Austen's humor and wit.

Shortly after returning home from college, I happened upon an author visit at (where else?) my local Powell's bookstore. I'd never heard of the author, but I was there, it was free, so why not? When Seth Grahame-Smith came to the podium it was to a hearty round of applause—some out of politeness, but most out of excited glee. He told his humorous story of how everything had gotten started, how his editor had called him up with only a title and he'd set off from there, how he went about editing the manuscript with red-colored text, and how no one could have foreseen the book's success. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had been unleashed upon the world, and the world shouted back, "MORE!"

Having been familiar with the original work, I'll admit I was slightly reluctant to try this new adaptation. I'm not the biggest fan of zombies (or gore in general), and I wasn't exactly sure how zombie hordes roaming the countryside would affect the storyline. Was there really a place for zombies in Austen's world? Then a fellow audience member stood up and walked to the front of the crowd. She announced herself as president of the local branch of The Jane Austen Society and said she was there to present Seth with an official invitation to their next national meeting. Um...color me convinced.

It took a week or two, but I managed to finally grab a copy of the book. I read through it, smirking and laughing all the way through. Now, following my second read of the book, I'm ready to offer up my review.

First and foremost, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is located in the humor section for a reason. Yes, it prides itself on featuring "Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem", but this isn't a slasher book. And yes, as with the original, the main plot centers on romance, but the style of the novel is far from your typical romance. This book is first and foremost a satire, and I'd venture to say a very well done satire indeed.

Austen's original text is, for the most part, still fully intact: the five Bennet sisters passing their time in the English countryside, seeking love and/or marriage; Misters Bingley and Darcy are still charming and indifferent (respectively), and both handsome and very well-off; And English society is still as prim and proper as ever. However, now and again instead of knitting or reading a book, characters will be sharpening blades or polishing muskets. Or a character might now be inconvenienced to behead an unmentionable in order to save her dancing partner.

Those casually familiar with the original may find themselves hard-pressed to find where the old text ends and new text starts, such is Grahame-Smith's skill with Austen's style. The zombie bits hardly "get in the way of" the story, and the story frames the zombie killing perfectly. In fact, the zombie menace actually serves to answer a few puzzling questions unanswered in the original, such as why there is a military regiment stationed in Meryton, and why such a smart girl as Charlotte would ever agree to marry who she does. And though some characters fates turn out differently than in the original, Austen fans can rest assured that the ending is still quite intact.

Elizabeth, the heroine of the novel, is possibly the most changed from her previous version, and yet recognizably the same. Far from being love-silly over the handsome visitors or military officers, she has her mind set on slaying unmentionables and honing her skill in the deadly arts. That is not to say she doesn't notice anything else, but she is a warrior of England first, a lady second, and thus she cannot be expected to fawn over every man who might make an offer of marriage. She's strong-willed and not afraid to behead the undead nor any man who slights her, which makes her especially fun to read. Forget slapping, try a round-house kick across the room or a katana spilling one's entrails.

And she's not alone in her techniques (though she is the most skilled among them), for all the Bennet sisters are likewise trained. Funnily enough, however, their personalities remain unchanged from Austen's imaginings. So imagine Kitty and Lydia, gossipy and love-crazy, now with the abilities to awe officers with displays of throwing stars. And poor Jane is now forced to balance her kind-hearted nature with slaying the undead. One thing's for sure, the sister's Pentagram of Death is a sight to see!

Language and gore are pretty tame as far as zombie novels go. About the only raunchy language are the references to "those most English parts" and a few ball jokes (which I found hilarious). If I had to describe the gore, I'd have to say it was clear and concise. I'm horrible with graphic depictions of gore, both in movies and books, but these descriptions fit the Victorian-era language and style so that one or two sentences were enough to convey the message, and then they moved on. So probably not up to The Walking Dead standards, but possibly around Zombieland levels... Again, think comedy not horror.

An aside on "normal" vs "Deluxe" editions. I had the unique opportunity to experience both editions simultaneously, reading as I do with the audiobook going in my ear. I own and thus read from the physical copy of the "normal" first edition (pictured above); I listened to the unabridged audiobook of The Deluxe Heirloom Edition (which may be the only audiobook version available). In terms of Zombie Mayhem, the Deluxe Edition did offer a few extra scenes depicting characters engaged in the deadly arts. However, if one has read Austen's original, or perhaps prefers more of the original writing to remain intact, then sticking with the normal edition may be more to your liking.

Personally, there were some Deluxe scenes I enjoyed, and some I thought were better being left out. There is one rather lengthy scene which occurred at the beginning of chapter three in which the Bennet sisters are called to a neighboring village to help with/witness a zombie raid on a church. Nothing really comes of the venture, except that the reader gets a few extra zombies, boiled brains, and men vomiting. Most of the rest of the added content follows this pattern, however there are quite a few instances where Elizabeth's character in particular gains from the re-writes. A few changed words here and there actually made her a fiercer woman than in the original edition, and trust me, that's saying something. Again, the changes may be pleasing to some (myself included), but offputing to others.

Overall, if you hate zombies or see yourself as an Austen purist, then this book isn't for you. However, if you're open to the idea that it's okay to laugh at literature, if you have a sense of humor or an eye for satire, and if you enjoy some zombie-slaying action, then I think you'll enjoy what Pride and Prejudice and Zombies accomplishes. It's obviously not a book for everyone, I'll state that loud and clear, but I think both authors have worked hard and succeeded in producing a classic that will stand the test of time.

Approximate Reading Time: 5.5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Katherine Kellgren
Length: 11 Hours
Listened at 1.9x Speed

For those of us who weren't willing to wait for the Deluxe edition and bought the first edition of the book, you might want to find yourself a copy of the audiobook to listen to. Therein lies a preface to the novel written (and read!) by co-author Seth Grahame-Smith recounting some of the process behind the creation of, and re-working of, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It's like your own (not-so) private message straight from the author!

After that, the narration kicks in and the action ramps up. Since, as I stated before, I only own the first edition of PPZ, not all of my reading matched with the voice in my head. Still, the listening was enjoyable, clear, concise, and well-voiced. The female voices were still, I think, better differentiated than the males', but most of the notable characters were easily discernible from one another.

And speaking of voices in my head, I think hearing an English accent for 5+ hours (not to mention the 5 hours of the last book) has begun to change my internal/writing voice Brittish. Well, one more book to go (in this series) and then maybe I can get my head back into American phrasing.