Publisher: Quirk Classics
In a special feature here at The G.O.R.E. Score, we’ve spent the last week reviewing a trio of undead books inspired by the works of Jane Austen. Called “Austen’s Autopsies,” the reviews are culminating here, in a review of the brand-spankin’-new book “Dreadfully Ever After,” to be released by Quirk Classics on the same day we are be reviewing it, Tuesday March 22! Let’s begin Part 3 of the Autopsy.
Everybody loves a good trilogy.
The thing is, trilogies normally follow a very specific order: first we get Part 1, which is the beginning of the story and the introduction to the characters. Then along comes Part 2, which puts the characters we met in Part 1 in another story, usually adding in some new characters and scenarios to help us feel like we’re getting something that’s the same but also different. Part 3 then wraps things up, often providing a very “final” ending to the story arc or arcs our characters have gone through. Much like most self-contained stories have a beginning, a middle, and an ending, the same formula works very well for trilogies; it’s the reason why everyone from George Lucas to Meat Loaf to J.R.R. Tolkein have seen their best successes come in the form of the trilogy.
But what happens when a trilogy is presented out of chronological order? That’s where the term “prequel” was coined: a pre-existing part of a story is presented as a follow-up se-quel to a tale already released. Pre-quel – a little unorthodox, to be sure, but it happens. In particular, movies like to utilize the tactic of prequels, as it’s an effective way to provide an audience with deeper exposition of a character or storyline without contradicting the original ending to the tale that’s already in place. I know I’ve already mentioned him in the previous review, but talk to the aforementioned Mr. Lucas about this stuff – he likes prequels so much, he made a trio of them! A pre-trilogy trilogy, if you will, and I’m surprised he didn’t try to coin a new term for it: if he had asked, would anyone have starting calling his films a “prilogy?”
But here’s the thing about prequels: they usually stand alone, or are the end of the story-telling avenue for most projects. After all, once you’ve made the conscious decision to go backwards, why completely shift gears and decide to go forwards again? If you wanted to go forward in time with the story, why not just have done so in the first place? So it’s a particular surprise that Quirk Books decided to follow up their “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” prequel tale “Dawn of the Dreadfuls” with a sequel to the first book, entitled “Dreadfully Ever After.” They’ve essentially made their trilogy go in the following release order: Part 2, Part 1, Part 3. How much sense does that make?
I’ve got to tell you, though: thank the undead gods they decided to come back and release Part 3 in the form of “Dreadfully Ever After.” Because it’s flippin’ genius.
Letting “Dawn” stand on its own as the prequel, “Dreadfully” picks up years after “P&P&Z” concluded with the marriage of the main characters from Jane Austen’s original story, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. (Quick aside here: I wish “Fitz-“ was still a cool precursor to a first name. I would love to be Fiztzanthony Schaab. Ah, a man can dream…) Anywho, after a few years of matrimony, Elizabeth finds herself becoming morose, likely due to the fact that “proper” married ladies aren’t allowed to fight the “unmentionable” undead, as the eldest Bennet daughter so used to love to do. Before the couple can have a serious heart-to-heart about her feelings, however, Darcy is surprisingly attacked by a young Dreadful monster, and his transformation into one of “the stricken” begins. Elizabeth, ever the lovng wife, can’t bring herself to behead and burn her beloved (as any good Brit living in this alt-history Regency England knows to do), but instead is fatefully reunited with her family on a hasty quest to London in search of a rumored serum that can reverse the effects of this disease known as “The Troubles.”
Let’s fairy-tale our way into the Score so we can put a cap on this entertaining-yet-slightly-askew trilogy:
G: General Entertainment – Steve Hockensmith authored this book, as he did with the prequel “Dawn.” It’s important to note that our dear Fitzsteve had to work within certain confines for the prequel, as he was responsible for ensuring that his tale had the characters and scenarios “make sense” while staying within the boundaries of where the plot had to go in order to connect with the beginning of “P&P&Z.” In this volume, however, he had no such limitations, and his artistic creative freedom rings loud and clear. The story revels in the juxtaposition of gory zombie dismemberment interspersed with the characters’ near-obsessive desire to maintain their high-society prim and properness. The humor of the story switches easily and effectively from subtle commentary to rollicking slapstick to ingenious wordplay without missing a beat. My complaints are so minimal, they are not even worth noting. It is a truly a drop-dead (and then reanimate) enjoyable book from start to finish. 9/10
O: Original Content – Where “P&P&Z” scored a 9 in this category for being one of the true spearheads of the zombie mash-up, “Dawn” dropped to a 6 here simply due to its nature of having to be implanted in an pre-existing universe. While “Dreadfully” obviously exists in the same narrative realm, it scores slightly higher due to some inventive additions to this ZombAusten realm. Notable are ideas like zombie races (think horse races where zombies are the horses and a human is the “rabbit” they are chasing); a “sectioned” London that utilizes its high walls not only for undead defense but also conveniently for class segregation; and the profoundly quirky character Mr. Quayle, a quadriplegic who spends his time inside of a shiny black box on wheels that is pulled by two dogs who have been taught to do everything. And I mean just about everything. 7/10
R: Realism – As the story of the undead menace continues to permeate 18th-Century England, the reader can almost feel the underlying tension in the population that comes with having their everyday lives threatened so insistently. While the premise is obviously not wholly believable, Hockensmith has done an excellent job (in both of his entries into this series) of making you feel like this is less an alternate-reality take on history and more like something that has actually happened. 8/10
E: Effects and Editing – Coming in just shy of 300 pages, this book continues the fortunate turn of not presenting the tale in the “Olde English” style that was contemporary when Austen wrote her original tale, but is sorely outdated now. Once the Bennets embark on their quest for the serum, the book deftly switches perspectives in alternating chapters, flipping between the family’s exploits in London and the ever-zombifying Darcy’s trials and tribulations back at the Pemberly estate. The wonderful black-and-white illustrations continue to make their appearance here, as they have in the other two books of the series, and the cover of the tome is once again a zombified version of an already-existing classic painting. In my being familiar with some other reviewer’s thoughts, it seems that Hockensmith’s choice to portray Scottish character Sir Angus MacFarquhar’s thick accent so pronounced in the writing was a polarizing one; indeed, MacFarquhar does spend much of the book portraying his brogue in print with words spelled out like “dorrrknob” and “perrrmit.” It’s an interesting choice, but no more unexpected than if a Canadian character would have his speech printed as “oot and aboot.” It wasn’t a huge deal for me as I read, and I hope it won’t be for you either. 8/10
TOTAL SCORE: 8/10
When it’s all said and done, the third (and final?) installment of the “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” trilogy is, in my opinion, the true high point of the series. Combining action, comedy, adventure, social satire, the undead, and yes, even a little bit of romance, “Dreadfully Ever After” is a more-than-fitting send-off to an all-around well-executed zombie mash-up series.
And now, my friends, you know the Score!