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Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

By Brian Prisco | Books | January 20, 2010 |

By Brian Prisco | Books | January 20, 2010 |

So, if you do a quickie scan of the ol’ Amazon these days, you’re going to notice an entire trend of classics being B-movied for our appreciation. The Wizard of Oz — with zombies. Huckleberry Finn — with zombies. I like zombies, but c’mon. “So You Think You Can America’s Got Zombies.” Let the trend end. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies wasn’t even that fucking great. What I can best say about Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is that at least it’s not more fucking zombies. Aside from that … yeah, bring on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. At least that seems a little original.

I like what Winters did with the overall mythology. Essentially, the world’s been flooded and all the aquatic creatures have become bloodthirsty and violent. Not just squids and giant sharks, but actually guppies and catfish and such. So all of Britain has actually become a series of islands, menaced by carnivorous sealife. I don’t know if it’s extended outside Britain or if it’s just a curse layered against them for colonization. It’s actually a great premise, but it’s a punchline that wears thin, just like with P&P&Z. Like Austen but let’s cram in as many fish references as we can.

Instead of being too old to be a worthy mate as in the original, in this one, they’ve made Colonel Brandon into some sort of squid-faced monstrosity. It’s really weak, the weakest change of the novel, particularly since they’ve modified it so that during all the many conversations, they’re constantly peppering the novel with references to how people can barely stand to look at him and he makes them sick. And Brandon’s in the novel quite a bit, so it just gets to be too much. Willoughby fares better, being represented as some sort of treasure hunter.

Not all of the changes are bad. Sir John and his wife and crazy mother and law undergo wonderful modifications which are great additions to the story. Sir John’s been turned into some sort of bizarre adventurer, and his wife and mother-in-law are actually captured savages from a village they ransacked. They were stuffed into burlap sacks and forced to marry. Charlotte Palmer also becomes a savage, and it works so well in the story. Even funnier is what he chooses to do with Margaret, the third sister. I kept forgetting she was in the story, since most of the focus is on Elinor and Marianne. Margaret becomes obsessed with a tribe of Cthlulu worshipers who are insisting that the protectors will rise up from the sea and save everyone. It’s hilarious, and actually does a great job explaining Margaret’s absence throughout the story. Lucy Steele and her sister get foisted off on another modification that is decidedly less wonderful.

Overall, the changes Winters makes are pretty good, but much like the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies inspiration, the joke just can’t hold out for the entire novel. It’s like, HA! Sea Monsters! Cool! Violence and bloodshed in classic Austen! Then it just gets less funny. And then you’re wondering when the story will be over. And in an Austen novel I already felt was overlong in the original, it seems to be interminable. I was mildly curious about the Oz and Finn mashups, but now I just want them to stop. I don’t want to see an entire generation of authors who make their bucks taking summer reading projects and peppering them with zombies or mummies or whatever the hell else they think of.

But I am still curious about Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, if only because it seems like he actually did some clever crafting. He started the joke, so it’s his fault that this is happening, but maybe he can shift it in a better direction.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. To read more of Brian’s reviews, check out his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.

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