Friday, January 15, 2010

Review: Sense and Sensibilities and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters


Jane Austen sci-fi fan fiction?  I don't want to sound like a party pooper, but Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters was too fishy for my taste.  It's like sushi - I thoroughly enjoy the first few bites, but I can't make a meal out of it.

From the same creative team of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, comes the latest Austen mash-up, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.  Staying true to the original plot, Ben H. Winters throws in man-eating giant lobsters, two-headed sea serpents, and plotting octopi - sea creatures which turned on the people of the earth thanks to an event referred to as "The Alteration". 

Yes, Winters gives us another tongue-in-cheek adaptation of one of Austen's most beloved novels, but keeps our wits sharp while turning Austen's England on its heels.  Even the ever-formal tea parties need a bit of cheeky change in this land of sea demons:

"On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse, or in extreme cases, if someone needs to be thrown overboard to satisfy the piranhas trailing the boat." 

What?!?  Did I read that right?  Oh, yes.  Yes, I did.  This is not the buttoned-up England of Ms. Austen.  Instead, Winters serves us a kill-or-be-killed survival mantra.

The parody works best during some of the more dramatic scenes.  For example, when Lucy Steele confides  in Elinor of her engagement, in the original, they take a turn about the room.  In Winters's version, Elinor is given a wonderful distraction from a fearsome two-headed beast.  Meanwhile, Miss Steele doesn't allow such an interruption to slow down her cadence and continues without pause.  This scene worked, and I thoroughly enjoyed Elinor's fight to the death with the sea monster.   Whenever Austen provided us with an important dramatic scene, Winters enhanced the drama with a few mutant sea creatures. 

About half-way through the book, however, it started to get a little too ripe for me.  Winters took some of my favorite scenes, and made a mockery of them. For another example, Mrs. Dashwood arrives to Marianne's sickbed, and Elinor exclaims, "Marianne lives, mother!  She lives!  And we have vanquished the pirates!  Happy Day!"  By then, the parody had stopped working for me. so by the time the wedding took place, complete with a penguin theme, I was ready for Sea Monsters to sink back into the ocean.

I wonder if I didn't allow myself to fully enjoy this book because it was too soon after reading the original.  Perhaps, if there were more time in between, I wouldn't have minded Lucy Steele's debut as a sea witch, and Colonel Brandon's octopus tentacles for a beard.  I kind of like the idea of Miss Steele being a witch.



Great article by Ben H. Winters: How I wrote Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Book Trailer:




About the Book:
Sense and Sensibilities and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
Paperback: 344 pages
Publisher: Quirk Books; Original edition (September 15, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1594744424
ISBN-13: 978-1594744426

**A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher
 What was that again?!?  That was just one line of many that I had to re-read, just to make sure I was understanding it correctly.

4 comments:

Elisabeth said...

I have several reader friends who are huge fans, but these just have no appeal to me. Based on your review, I'm sticking to my guts. ;-)

Greg Zimmerman said...

I love the sushi metaphor! Now THAT is evidence that criticism can be its own art form. :)

Yeah, I don't get the appeal of these crash mash-up books. I'll also be steering well clear.

Debbie T said...

I tried to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but I didn't get too far. I think i'll skip this one as well. I also like the sushi Metaphor.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I've seen these books all over, but I'd probably have the same reaction as you. It sounds like an SNL skit that went on too long.

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