“The family of Dashwood had been settled in Sussex since before the Alteration, when the waters of the world grew cold and hateful to the sons of man, and darkness moved on the face of the deep. The Dashwood estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the dead centre of their property, set back from the shoreline several hundred yards and ringed by torches.”
There was never any doubt in my mind that I would set upon this book as soon as possible, after reading “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” I was a bit dubious about the addition of sea monsters to a book which, to my recollection, had no mention of oceans in it whatsoever. But the author managed this effortlessly.
The Dashwood sisters and their recently widowed mother are forced to move to a foreboding cottage on the Pestilent Isle after Mr. Dashwood is violently consumed by a hammerhead shark and their own brother turns them from their former home. There, they make the acquaintence of Sir John, a former pirate, his wife and his mother in law who are both captured savages from one of his missions, and his dear friend Colonel Brandon – who is unfortunate enough to have a face covered with tentacles. Elinor, the eldest, has fallen in love with Edward Ferrars, but has been separated from him by his disapproving family. Marianne is determined to fall in love with only one man in her entire life, and Margaret is convinced that something dark and evil is hunting them on their new island home. As the Dashwood sisters do their best to find husbands, they will have to be constantly on their toes not only because of society but because of all the vicious creatures of the deep who only wish to destroy them.
As incongruous as sea monsters and Jane Austen seem (even more so than Austen and zombies!) Ben Winters has managed to create an entirely new environment for the Dashwood sisters to shine in. While some scenes in P&P&Z felt a little forced, this environment felt completely natural. The author seemed to draw from several classic sci-fi/oceanic literature sources for ideas but never completely integrated them in a way that felt like he wasn’t being creative in his own right. Sure, there is something a bit odd when reading about Elinor Dashwood and Lucy Steele fighting a two-headed sea serpent, but you never feel that it’s not completely Elinor Dashwood from Austen’s works who is sitting in the boat battling a monster.
Another aspect of this book I enjoyed was the inclusion of Margaret’s storyline. I always felt she got a bit neglected in the original story, as her sisters took center stage in the plot. However, in this version of the tale, Margaret very much has to do with the story – acting as a barometer for what is going on in the world outside of society. She may not necessarily be appearing at the time but she definitely sits in the back of your mind – something saying “look out for that one.”
Overall, I consider this Austenmonster book a bigger success than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. An Austen purist may not appreciate these new versions, but as someone who loves both Austen and Austen spin-offs, this is definitely a winner.
“Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” was written by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters and published in 2009.