I honestly thought that nothing – nothing – could get me to read Jane Austen again. I know that she has some rabid fans, but those Victorian manners-and-money romances were really not my thing. I was frustrated, even as a teenager, by female characters who seemed completely powerless. Elizabeth Bennett, her life ruined because some man she doesn’t even like doesn’t want to dance with her? How ridiculous! But in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, she has some recourse…
“As Mr. Darcy walked off, Elizabeth felt her blood turn cold. She had never in her life been so insulted. The warrior code demanded that she avenge her honor. Elizabeth reached down to her ankle, taking care not to draw attention. There, her hand met the dagger concealed beneath her dress. She meant to follow this proud Mr. Darcy outside and open his throat.”
Now that’s what I call some recourse! Forget sitting idly by, embroidering and playing the pianoforte, the Bennett sisters are charged by the King with the protection of their village. They are seasoned warriors, trained by the renowned Master Liu of the Shaolin Temple in China. When a ball is invaded by “dreadfuls” and “unmentionables”, Elizabeth and her sisters execute the Pentagram of Death to save the party-goers:
“Each girl produced a dagger from her ankle and stood at the tip of an imaginary five-pointed star. From the center of the room they began stepping outward in unison – each thrusting a razor-sharp dagger with one hand, the other hand modestly tucked into the small of her back.”
It is the juxtaposition of Regency manners and violent zombie/ninja mayhem that makes this such a fun book. The text is violent, although not terribly gruesome. (The book cover did startle the gent next to me on the flight to Las Vegas.) The girls talk like girls – about men, about dresses, about parties. Then, they go out and kill hordes of undead monsters. Chicklit for the zombie apocalypse.
The plot basics are all there: the Bennett sisters will be turned out of their fine home upon their father’s death, as it is entailed to their cousin, William Collins. Their parents are looking for suitable husbands for the girls, and they are encouraged to learn that an eligible young bachelor, Charles Bingley, has moved into a nearby estate. The Bennetts bring their daughters Elizabeth and Jane, to a ball thrown by their new neighbor to do a little matchmaking. Jane seems to like Charles, and he appears to feel the same, but Elizabeth takes an immediate dislike to Darcy, Charles’s egocentric best friend. While Elizabeth is infatuated with military man Lt. Wickham and finds herself courted by Collins, her boring cousin, fate causes Elizabeth and Darcy to frequently cross paths. I won’t spoil the ending – just in case you escaped this in English Lit 101 – but I will tell you that the story is lot more fun when Elizabeth’s friends are turning into zombies and she gets to argue with Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine, about the relative superiority of Japanese vs. Chinese ninja training.
“Ms. Bennett, I remind you that you lack proper instruction in the deadly arts. Your master was a Chinese monk – these ninjas hail from the finest dojos in Japan.”
“If my fighting is truly inferior, then your ladyship will be spared the trouble of watching it for very long.”
I think this is the version that high school English teachers should use from now on. I know that if my English lit class had focused more on zombies and less on outdated social mores, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.