BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
2009, Quirk Classics
Best ebook deal: Sony eBook Store
What I most enjoyed about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was how it was delivered almost as an enhanced edition of the original text. Most of Austen’s original novel was intact, and Grahame-Smith more or less selectively modified the book. This transformed the story into something different, while ensuring it remained potted in the same soil. In Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Winters takes a very different approach. This novel is very much a rewrite and not a modification. Sea Monsters is essentially a mashup of Austen’s novel and Beauty and the Beast, “Pirates of the Carribbean” and “Bioshock.” It’s still a pretty fun read though.
Austen’s original plot lines and chartacter trees are mostly intact here, but most everything else is changed. Most readily noticeable: the majority of the novel takes place on islands or in an undersea dome substituting for Austen’s London. These modifications are based on the largely unexplored premise of the “Alteration” in which the seas became full of violent mutant sea beasts hell bent on war with humanity.
Why people chose to solicialize in perilous undersea cities rather than landocked locales (as many in Austen’s original Sense and Sensibility are) of course doesn’t much matter. The book is intended as a fun sci-fi romp. It’s certaily not the type of read where trying to pin down “real science” is worthwhile. Colonol Brandon’s squirmy face tentacles should clue you in to this pretty much immediately.
There are many more added scenes of violence in this book than in Zombies. You can expect a sea creature to attack every twenty pages or so. At times this happens in moments where the original dramatic tension (derived say from a guarded conversation about engagement) is dulled by today’s standards:
“Good heavens!” cried Elinor, swinging her oar towards the flat head of the Fang-Beast, as astonished by the sheer size of the creature she faced, as by her drawing understanding of Lucy Steele’s meaning. “What do you mean? Are you acquainted with Mr. Robert Ferrars? Can you be?” Thea Fang-Beast, meanwhile, easily avoided the strike of the oar, which splashed uselessly on the surface of the water.
“No,” replied Lucy, “not to Mr. Robert Ferrars. I never saw him in my life; but to his elder brother.”
Elinor turned towards Lucy in silent amazement, and it was in that moment that the second great head reared out of the surface of the water, compounding Elinor’s shock.
However after a while it becomes a tad tiresome and redundant. Similarly, there is so much pirate lingo and seafarer hyperbole in this book, it begins to sound like a tired joke about halfway through. Not a single paragraph lacks some sort of ocean-centric word or phrase. At times these get far too goofy. For example:
Elinor’s curiosity to see Mrs. Ferrars was satisfied, as was her curiosity to know how a fur seal might wield a badminton racquet.
At times though, it works much more nicely:
From the window she saw him pause and stare for several long seconds into the canal; it seemed to Elinor that Brandon contemplated abandoning his steed and simply diving in and swimming away–as if in the moment of his heart’s defeat he had become more fish than man.
This a fun book and I really enjoyed reading it, especially coming right out of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. However, unlike its predecessor which really did a great job of cobbling something new out of something old, this is much more like a wholly original work. For that very reason, it might be a more appealing book to many readers, and a bit less to others.
Sea Monsters offers a non-stop flow of humor and violence, and it does play up the themes and drama of the source text–i.e.”town” is actually an encapsulated space now. All the while it makes up enough new material and angles, wet suits, sea horse rides, aquatic mutant giants, sea witchery, etc., to create a new experience that is quite unlike its source material, which for me was a bit of a letdown.