It is Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. It follows the same plot. If you aren’t familiar with the basic story of Pride and Prejudice.. well , that’s surprising, but here it goes. The story follows Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent and independently minded young woman, and her family, as they navigate the social issues of the time. The Bennet family is roughly equivalent to a middle-class family in Regency-era English society. Mr. Bennet is the head of the household, but he tends to shun his social duties as father in favor of books and his sarcastic sense of humor. His wife, Mrs. Bennet, is obsessed with marrying off Elizabeth and her five sisters, Jane, the eldest, who is known for her beauty and kind heart, Mary and Catherine, who bear little weight in the plot of the book, and Lydia, who is the youngest and the one who seems to care the least for social rules. The desire to marry her daughters off comes from both her desire to see her family climb the social ladder, but also to guarantee a place for her daughters since they will be left with nothing when their father dies, as only a male could inherit anything.
The plot kicks off with the arrival Mr. Bingly, a charming and rich gentleman, and his friend Mr. Darcy, a man who may be quite handsome but has few social graces. From this point forward, love, romance, and the dance of social classes is the framework for the entirety of the story. People fall in love across class, but struggle to overcome false impressions and social expectations. Will the Bennet sisters find economic and social security, or even love?
Wait… did I miss something? Oh, yes. There are zombies, too. And ninjas. They don’t affect the plot much, but they are certainly there. That’s a bit different from Jane Austen’s original.
I think this book will appeal to a very particular audience. If you both love classics and love poking fun at classics through the lense of popular culture and irony, then you will find yourself at home. However, if you like your classical romances unaltered, you will hate this. If you love zombie apocalypse stories and horror, or perhaps action and adventure, but can’t really stand romance or the “boring stuff” like social maneuvering, you will hate this. It’s an interesting venn diagram.
I’ve got to be straightforward with you all right now. I’m not a big fan of the original “Pride and Prejudice.” I could only get through one third of the book. It bored me. It’s not that the characters were particularly bad. They were not. It’s not that the writing style and mechanics were bad. They weren’t. I simply couldn’t connect with anyone, and the conflict was bland.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is the exact same book as the original, except with zombies filling the backdrop. To compensate for the danger, the main characters are almost universally trained (before the events of the book) in martial arts and swordsmanship to a high level of mastery, which they use to keep the menace of the zombies at bay. This change makes proceedings just a tad more interesting, but really it only adds or changes about twenty percent of the book. Besides that, the ninja and oriental martial arts elements only served to make the events and characters feel even sillier than I felt they already were, and completely undercuts any threat the zombies might have presented to the main characters.
The thing is, I believe that was the point. I have seen other critics take the addition as some sort of serious effort to add dramatic tension to the story. I disagree. I think it’s very clearly supposed to be ironic and silly. Pride and Prejudice by itself contains many social elements from the time period that seem, to me, to be patently ridiculous. Zombie films can also be seen to have many ridiculous elements. When the two are combined, they serve to emphasize the silliness of each other. In that sense, this retelling of the classic is very successful.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was still something of a slog for me, but I appreciate the irony and satire of the concept, and I generally enjoyed the last three-fourths of the book. Whether it is to my taste is at least partially besides the point as there is no denying the original skill of Jane Austen, nor the interesting juxtaposition of her classic story against the zombies and ninjas of our pop culture by Seth Grahame-Smith. In the end, I would say this book is worth bringing home if you find it in…
If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.
I feel like I am about to be crucified by the many people who love this book, or rather the original, but I just can’t muster an emotional connection to anything that happens between the covers. I have never found social strata and the rules that govern them to be particularly compelling, and generally just nonsense. This leaves me seeing almost all of the conflict in the book as simply frustrating and trivial.
The only way to salvage the conflict would be through characters I can either identify with or sympathize with, but those are in short supply. Of all of them, I liked Elizabeth’s father, even though he does leave his family out to dry. I think he might be my spirit animal. He doesn’t find dealing with the social morass engaging or important and he prefers books to socialization. His inattention to the problems of his family may not speak well of him as a responsible man, but I definitely identify with him.
Elizabeth’s mother is ridiculous, but then she is supposed to be. I liked Jane, but again the connection was fairly low-key, and Lydia was frustratingly obsessed with frivolous things, to the point that she makes life hard for everyone else in her family. The other sisters besides Jane and Lydia might as well not be there.
While I liked Elizabeth, I couldn’t connect with her well enough to care about anything she has to go through, at least until about three fourths of the way through the book when things finally pick up. Once a character’s disappearance adds urgency and some sense of danger to the plot, and the mystery of Mr. Darcy’s character and untangling his pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice becomes the focus of the story, everything becomes tighter, more focused, and thus more interesting.
The zombies really were just window dressing. There were a few things that they helped. The occasional fight scenes were a nice reprieve from the endless parties and prattle. They were a useful explanation of all of the soldiers and officers that appear in the book as well, and some other plot points become a tad stronger for their presence. Still, all of this is fairly minor. The ninja element is in some ways more impactful because it informs the characterization quite a lot. Elizabeth has a sort of barbaric warrior edge to her due to her training in China and her sense of honor. It comes across as ridiculous, of course, in this pompous English society, but it is supposed to.
There is a part of me that wishes the ninja element was cut out completely in favor of truly making this a romantic horror novel, or otherwise rejiggering the plot more drastically by making the zombies a real threat. That would be a very different kind of book. The whole purpose of this book is to be funny more than anything, or perhaps it even serves as a literary thought experiment. Either way, as it is written, it isn’t meant to derive any sort of sense of real peril for the characters.
The book does manage to both keep much of what made the original good, while adding something new. The thematic elements I liked most from the original material was how Elizabeth and Darcy embodied the flaws of prejudice and pride respectfully, and how they had to overcome those flaws and realize how stupid they were being. That is still very much intact in this book. The thing that works best from the new material is the ironic juxtaposition of the disparate elements of popular culture with the original text. Together they make a generally pleasing stew, for those that are into this sort of thing.
Conclusion and Star Rating:
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is a weird book. I can’t help but admire it for what it does, even as I am glad I no longer have to read it. Nothing is quite so soul killing as social class drama, except for literal soul killing. I mean, come on! It took zombies and ninjas to even begin to make it tolerable! (Please don’t kill me, Jane Austen fans!)
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is a “Good” book. Give it a whirl, if this kind of satire appeals to you.
I think one of the things I liked best about the book was how it took the opportunity of re-writing some of the original as license to really sock it to Wickham. The jerk deserved it. Though I suppose he can be grateful he is still alive, after what Grahame-Smith did to Mr. Collins, having him hang himself and all that. Of all the things in the book, that is a perfect example of the juxtaposition of the English polite culture with the morbid black humor of the zombie apocalypse. Mr. Collins discussion of his suicide so precisely and politely in the letter he sent the Bennets before committing the deed worked exactly as it was meant to.
What else to talk about? There is so little plot actually going on in the book that secrets and revelations are far in between for me to really comment over. Um… Elizabeth and Darcy having their first fight against zombies together was kind of cute? The fight between Elizabeth and Darcy earlier on was pretty good, too.
I thought the cauliflower and brains joke was kinda funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but small grin funny, you know? The character changes to Lady Catherine de Bourgh were interesting and worked out well, I suppose? She was still a hateful old witch, to be sure.
Well, if there is anything else you want me to comment on, feel free to ask in the comment section below! Otherwise, I think I’m ready to turn the last page on this.
Until next time!