To start, I have to admit that the judgment I made of what Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would be like prior to reading it was totally wrong. The whole concept of morphing a Jane Austen novel into a blood-soaked zombie farce seemed silly and beyond merit. I was certain that it would be a complete waste of time for any reader over the age of 15. I was wrong, but let me qualify that. I experienced Pride and Prejudice and Zombies via its audio version and, largely because of the superb performance of Katherine Kellgren, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, even to the point of laughing out loud several times. On the one hand, I still doubt that reading a printed version of the book would even come close to matching the fun of the audio book. On the other, I can honestly say that this is my favorite audio book to this point of 2010.
England has been beset by zombies for more than five decades and, in order to protect his family, a man like Mr. Bennett does what he has to do. Bennett, a man with five daughters but not a single son, makes the most of having numbers in his favor by sending the girls to China for training in the “deadly arts.” Upon their return, the ladies become Hertfordshire’s primary defenders against the “unmentionables” that plague the countryside.
But despite the great joy the girls take in personally disposing of hundreds of zombies, they and their mother believe that their lives cannot be considered complete unless they make a good match as early into their twenties as possible (if not at an even younger age). Mrs. Bennett’s sole purpose in life seems to be placing her daughters into situations from which they can attract the most suitable young men in the region. So, while the daughters are busily chopping off heads and limbs, pulling still beating hearts from the bodies of sparring ninjas, and setting zombies afire, Mrs. Bennett eagerly welcomes young bachelors into her home in hopes of snaring a new son-in-law or two for the family.
Admirers of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will already be familiar with the Bennett family, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins, Charlotte, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, among others. Now, Seth Grahame-Smith tells the rest of their story. And what a story, it is.
Katherine Kellgren’s presentation of the novel mimics the style of whichever author’s work she is reading. When she reads the words of Jane Austen, characters speak in a voice and tone that will be very familiar to fans of movies made from the Austen novels. The words of Grahame-Smith require an added edge and vigor but Kellgren presents them in a way that sounds perfectly natural to Miss Jane’s version of the girls. Throw in Elizabeth’s wholehearted adoption of the warrior code and its requirement that one’s honor must be defended at all cost, and the new Elizabeth Bennett is, if different, more fun than ever. Call me weird, but the idea of Elizabeth Bennett yanking the heart from an opposing warrior’s chest and eating it during a tea party makes me laugh.
This audio book is great fun, and readers curious about this kind of genre mash-up will do well to start here. Whether or not they will feel compelled to venture further into the field is an open question. I do not; others might want more.