As we begin Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith, one thing becomes quite clear within the first chapter. This isn’t so much the dawn as it is mid-morning of the day that marks the resurgence of the mysterious zombie plague. That’s right, this isn’t really the beginning of the dreadfuls, but more the beginning of the Bennet sisters becoming the warrior defenders of Mayerton and all of Hertfordshire.
Why is Elizabeth the fiercest of her sisters? How does a gentle soul like Jane take up blade to slay the undead, yet retain her gentleness? Were Kitty and Lydia always so prone to insensibility? Was Mary always the middlest sister little thought of? Hockensmith attends to these issue, without providing any definitive answers–or satisfactory ones in some cases. (Be aware that uncharacteristic behavior also abounds among our much loved Bennets.)
Mr. Bennet, who we learn was once a member of the mysterious Order, had not been fulfilling his vow to train his children in the deadly arts until now. Master Hawkenworth arrives to correct this oversight. (This is were I fell into a rather large plot hole as I was lead to believe in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that the Bennet girls had been training all of their lives with some of that study abroad in China under the strict tutelage of the Shaolin Master Liu.)
And the Dead Shall Rise…Again.
As to the zombie plague we do learn a few things, though, again, not of the true origin of the plague. Over twenty years have passed since the plague was thought to have ended by the large majority of England. If there was any doubt as to the severity of the previous outbreak, of the foolhardy belief that it had passed, and the seriousness of the impending danger Mr. Bennet makes it quite clear in his speech to Capt. Cannon.
“Damn it, man, the Burial Act’s been repealed five years now!” he snapped. “Five years we’ve been letting people bury their dead with their heads on their necks! Which means this very moment there’s probably a pack of zombies tunneling around under St. Chad’s cemetery like so many moles! Have you any idea how many men–well-trained, disciplined men–it will take to deal with that? And how many more will be needed to secure the roads and patrol the countryside?”
Obviously, Mr. Bennet is no stranger to the crisis at hand, and it is apparent that the zombie plague was of such a concern that Parliament had enacted a law about how one could be buried to prevent just what is now happening only to repeal it believing that–most likely under public pressure–the danger had long since passed.
The Troubles, which had required a commitment of English resources and soldiers enough to be considered a war, had been such a problem that the English were in fact losing ground until a group of English men and women sought the skills of the deadly arts known by those in the East. This group of English, known only as The Order, had believed that the plague would resurface and each vowed that they would continue in the warrior ways of the deadly arts, teaching them to their progeny even after being told their services would no longer be needed by the English government.
However, beyond that we don’t really learn much even though a history book had been written on the subject which we find Mary reading. What we learn about The Troubles is in bits among the conversations of those who had fought in them, and they are few in this story as only the least trained and most expendable have been spared to aid those in Hertfordshire.
What did you think about the unanswered question of the origin of the zombie plague? How did you like Hockensmith’s handling of going back in time to address the development of the Bennets? Does Dawn of the Dreadfuls really lay the foundation for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Are there ever really any well done prequels?
*Photo: Mist in Queensbury churchyard 31.10.2010 by Tim Green aka atoach, obtained through Flickr.