Friday, November 20, 2009

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Book Review time, yo

We all know of the Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility.

It’s a classic story of sisters and courtship and…some kind of love story drama …bustles and kerchiefs…okay, okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve never read it.

The truth is I think the archaic notions of waiting to marry into money and women aquiver with heaving bosoms are boring.

That’s why I love the Quirk Books’ new series of revamped Jane Austen books, in which Austen is listed only as a co-author.

I was first introduced to these masterful additions of monsters and gore when I was stuck in the Calgary airport for three hours. I picked up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austen) at the insanely expensive bookstore. I’ll even admit that I judged the book by its cover. A pretty lady covered in blood with half of her face missing; it was love at first sight.

The flight from Calgary to Victoria is less than two hours long, and by the time we arrived my mind’s eye had borne witness to epic battles of life and un-death.

It was exciting, and at the same time, I was subconsciously absorbing the general plot and the who’s who of the original work; the estates and carriage rides and talk of money and hand holding were there, but not at the forefront of my imagination.

I may be a bit biased. I love a good monster movie or horror story. I’m pretty sure that if they put monsters into textbooks I’m sure I’d have a GPA of 4.0; The Biology of Frankenstein, Alien Invasion at the Bay of Pigs, King Kong Does Advanced Calculus, World War II: Hitler versus Godzilla and The Culture of the Ancient Mummies would be best sellers.

Needless to say, I was entertained throughout the entire novel and finished it in only a few days. It was such an interesting, fresh and funny way of writing, and a great introduction to the world of Jane Austen which I had somehow neglected all twenty seven years of my life. When the book was over, I sighed contentedly, and gave it a prominent place on my bookshelf.

When Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H.Winters (and Jane Austen) came out September 15th of this year, I had to have it, and fortunately received it right away as a birthday gift.

I ended up reading half of it that same day, alternating between silent appreciation of Austen’s manipulation of prose and my own disgusted exclamations of “GROSS!” courtesy of Winters.

The book is set in an alternate universe version of mid-Regency England in which one day, all of a sudden, a change occurred in bodies of water all over the planet.

Known by the protagonists as “The Alteration”, this change caused every creature of the ocean to suddenly develop into mutated, intelligent and murderous beings. Their sole purpose in life became to wreak vengeance upon human kind.

The reader follows Elinor, Marianne and Margaret Dashwood, along with their mother, to their new home on Pestilent Isle, to Sub Marine Station Beta, a dome built four miles under the ocean, and back.
There are is a large amount of excitement over love affairs and secret crushes; most notably the dramatic fling and subsequent break-up between Marianne and Willoughby the dashing treasure hunter who saved her from a deadly octopus attack.

Not being a fan of romantic stories in general, I was grateful for all the breaks in the monotonous “why doesn’t he write” lamentations and the “who will marry who” drama that seemed to preoccupy the women of that time.

As a woman of the 21st century I actually find the tales of fighting zombies and sea monsters easier to relate to than the archaic courtship rituals of those times.

But in this book I can almost stand the amorous ruminations when they are given by the man-monster colonel Brandon, or by the girls, if, at the same time, they are being attacked by gigantic trained lobsters.

In this way, Ben H. Winters found a way to make a girl like me find unexpected heroes in the antiquated characters from another time.

Admittedly, Winters does go over the top sometimes, throwing everything from steampunk imagery to pirates to sea-witch curses into the already insane subplot of the sea monsters. The battles are so distracting at times that the reader has trouble keeping up with the story. But there is no denying the amount of sheer enjoyment I got out of the time I spent reading this book.

I know purists and book snobs everywhere are sneering into their lattes as they read this, but to them I would like to say that these books are for the rest of us: those who are only looking to be entertained without doing an in-depth literary study.

If you love monsters, gore, and gratuitous violence but you’re still not sure you want to read this book, I would recommend watching the ultra-cheesy trailer for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters on YouTube first to get an idea of what you are getting yourself into.


  1. That clip had me on tenterhooks. I think more books would benefit from their own little movie trailer.


Digame entonces.

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