Book Review- Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
Updated: Sep 1, 2020
If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or seen the movie, then you already know the basic premise behind this book: Jane Austen’s classic story moves along as she originally wrote it, with little quirks added along the way, then all of a sudden, in the middle of the story, some strange phenomenon occurs, totally original and certainly bizzarre. In this case, it’s not zombies we are talking about here though, but vicious sea-life; fish and mythological monsters of the deep brought about by “the alteration”, an unknown circumstance by which the waters of the lakes, rivers and oceans began to spawn man-eating, larger-than-life, sea creatures.
The story opens, as does the original Sense and Sensibility, by relating the circumstances of the Dashwood family, and how the three sisters and their mother come to be at the mercy of step-son/half-brother John Dashwood and his pernicious wife Fanny. Where it differs, though, is in the description of the death of the head of the family, Henry Dashwood. He is brutally murdered on the beach by a hammerhead shark, witnessed by his wife, son, and daughters. His last wishes, directed to John, that his wife and daughters be cared for, are written in the sand with a bit of flotsam before the decapitated man expires. This is just the first of many gruesome turn of events which takes place throughout the story.
For the most part, the alterations to the novel in the first half of the book are small and seem forced. References to eating seafood are frequently thrown in, as are Elinor’s knowledge of fish and Marianne’s love of shipwrecked sailors. Mrs. Jennings and her daughters being native princesses kidnapped from a distant island seems strangely out of character for them, although I can picture Sir John as a burly, tanned, adventurer! Occasionally, some random minor character is created solely for the purpose of being killed by a sea monster in grotesque fashion.
The interesting part of the story happens when the girls go with Mrs. Jennings to visit Sub-Station Beta, which is basically London, but 4 miles beneath the ocean inside a glass dome. Besides bringing to mind the underwater Gungan city from Star Wars Episode I, I found it humorous to imagine the fashionable people of town walking around wearing their emergency float suits, the equivalent of putting a life jacket on top of Regency attire. This was done, of course, in case the very worst should happen: the outer dome of Sub-Station Beta collapse and waters flood the city, history repeating itself as in the case of poor Sub-Station Alpha…
One part of the story which greatly disappointed me was the depiction of Colonel Brandon. As readers can easily guess from the cover, he was cursed by a sea witch to look something like Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, his face covered in octopus tentacles. This disgusting malady made an otherwise likeable character into one I was loathe to see Marianne end up with, and I kept hoping that that the author had a romantic streak that would somehow allow her love to break the curse in the end. Alas, aside from a little dirty humor slipped in at the very end, I was left feeling like Marianne got the raw end of the deal where that match was concerned, especially given how much I usually like Colonel Brandon as a character, and how favorably he was treated in other adaptations.
Overall, the added bits of horror were humorous, and there were some parts of the story I found engaging. But I will admit, this was not my favorite variation of Sense and Sensibility. I will, I expect, keep Austen’s original novel on my list of annual re-reads, but leave the Sea Monsters to go back to their homes in the depths of the ocean.