Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
Journey back to Regency England – Land of the Undead
Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith is a prequel to the hugely successful zombie/Jane Austen mash-up novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Set five years before the first novel, it follows the five Bennet sisters as they are trained in the deadly arts of the warrior, in order to combat the undead menace that plagues England.
The reader learns of Oscar Bennet’s part in ‘The Troubles’ and how, as a younger man, he made a promise to raise all his children as warriors, irrespective of their gender. It is a definite plus point that the reader gets to learn more about the character of Mr Bennet. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies he is very much a secondary character but in the prequel his story is brought to the fore. He is head of the family and still, just about, in control of his wayward daughters.
Once again Elizabeth is the main female protagonist but in this case she is only eighteen and much less sure of herself. Mr Darcy is not yet on the scene so she finds herself torn between the enigmatic Master Hawksworth, and a man of science, Dr Keckilpenny. Both men offer Elizabeth a glimpse of something different and what is missing from her staid country life. Hawksworth is Elizabeth’s training master while Dr Keckilpenny is attempting to study the ‘strange plague’ and its resulting offspring.
Dawn of the Dreadfuls is distinctly different in tone than its predecessor. There has been a change of author for the prequel and the attempts to emulate Austen’s writing style feels somewhat lacking. This had been one of the highlights of the previous novel and I felt a little disappointed by this change. Austen’s voice is not as loud as it was before.
On a more positive note, there is a definite ramping up in the action stakes. There are more zombie encounters than before. Each of the Bennet girls need to find it within themselves to embrace their training as they learn how to dispatch the undead. There are some very inventive methods used to dispatch the zombies and these became more and more outlandish as the novel progressed.
From a horror standpoint, I felt that this novel was actually an improvement over Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The author has revisited some traditional zombie narrative staples and these work well. The novel’s climax has a marvelously claustrophobic feeling as the Bennet family and their neighbors are trapped in the local manor house awaiting an incoming zombie attack.
Dawn of the Dreadfuls is a fun read and, if anything, it is more accessible than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. There is valuable insight into the history of the Bennet family as well as the zombie hordes. Overall, I continue to be entertained by the juxtaposition of regency manners versus the ravaging undead.