If ever there was a book that combined two of my interests then Dawn of the Dreadfuls is it. The Quirk classic tells the story of BD (Before Darcy) and the lives and loves of the Bennett sisters before Austen’s tale. Oh and with the added addition of zombies!!
Starting with a funeral and the attendance of the late Mr Ford to his own funeral when he suddenly reanimates, the story unfolds with tales of how Mr Bennett was part of a secret order trained to kill zombies many years ago during the Troubles when hordes of undead rose to eat the gentle fold of Regency England. With the Troubles appearing to have returned he must now train his daughters in the way of the order so they can join the fight.
Steve Hockensmith, the author, manages to keep the tone of the original Austen story and sticks with the conventions of the time. The girls are ostracised by members of their village for the un-feminine behaviour, having their invitation to the local ball revoked much to the horror of Mrs Bennett and her plans to find her girls husbands.
The behaviours of polite society are also brought up in the way the zombies are discussed. The word zombie is almost a swear word, instead they are called Unmentionables only really becoming “zombies” during times of rebellion by the Bennett sisters.
With the lack of Darcy in the story, the author has had to create his own male leads. For Elizabeth (still the heroine of the piece) we have Master Hawksworth– sent from afar by the Order to help Bennett train the girls. A man who says all the right things as a trainer but in practise runs away at the first sign of an Unmentionable. And Dr Keckilpenny who is in Merryton to study the zombies with the hopes of re-Anglicising them back into good, respectable English men and women.
Jane doesn’t fair much better with her admirers. Lord Lumpley is set from the beginning to be the bad guy of the tale. Starting with general philandering but with details of much worse being declared as the story unfolds. Jane has a lucky escape. The closest we have to a hero in the film is Lieutenant Tindall, who despite his aversion to women learning martial arts and doing anything remotely unladylike is actually quite a shy young man desperate to win the affections of the eldest Bennett before she falls for the odious Lumpley.
My favourite character though has to be Captain Cannon. Wounded in the Troubles, he is now both armless and legless but that does not stop him wooing his former flame Mrs Bennett. He does with the aid of his Right Limb & Left Limb; two loyal soldiers who tend to his every need including getting down on one knee to serenade Mrs Bennett in a way in which Cannon can no longer do. A fighter to the very end and a shining example of the British stiff upper lip.
All in all it’s a story that while it includes zombies is very much in the spirit of the original with every character thoroughly filled out and imagined. Plus it’s humorous in places. One of my favourite books and definitely the best of the mash ups I have read.