Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith, 2009, 317 pgs.
This was a let-down. I think the idea of a novel-length mashup has a ton of potential; this one’s a thrilling concept because it takes “the classic regency romance” and adds a modern fan’s obsessions—zombies and ninjas. But the execution is lackluster. Smith keeps Austen’s plot structure, chapter by chapter, with most of Austen’s narration and dialogue intact, but inserts about 6-10 brief action scenes of zombie slaying, mostly while en route on countryside roads (the ninjas make a minor appearance as Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s minions). These scenes are tacked on rather than integrated into the plot.
Smith does make some character changes by inserting weak strands of feminism and humor. Mr. Bennett has sent all five of his daughters to China for childhood training in the “deadly arts,” so they can defend England from the “unmentionables” and keep their minds engaged in killing rather than “clouded with dreams of marriage and fortune.” This gives Elizabeth and the rest the opportunity to drop the names, weapons, and fighting poses of “Oriental” masters throughout, and Mr. Darcy the opportunity to say that he prefers a woman to be “well trained in the fighting styles of the Kyoto masters and the modern tactics and weaponry of Europe.” Elizabeth spends much time cleaning muskets and sharpening sword blades, but I prefer her headstrong nature in the original, where feminism is shown not by battle acumen but nuanced self-reflection and courageous interpersonal speech and action.
I chuckled a few times, but overall I found the book humorless. There is the running sexual innuendo revolving around the word “balls.” There is Charlotte Lucas, who is bitten by a zombie and then disintegrates bit by bit, slurring her words and acting silly. There are Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham, the cads of the story, who are made to suffer more for their bad behavior than in the original, and it is meant to be funny. Finally, Smith can’t help but get creative in the ways Mr. Bennett verbally abuses his “silly, ignorant” wife.
Pass on this one, and hope that better mashups are in the works.