Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters Review
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Earlier this year, I fell in love with Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which took Jane Austen’s beloved romance and added all-new undead action. So, eager to read more of the same kind of quirky action and romance, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second book in the series, Ben H. Winters’s Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

Like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters retains much of Austen’s original story—only, this time, there’s a briny twist.

The story follows the Dashwood sisters—Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret—whose lives are forever changed when their father is eaten by a shark. Before dying, he begs his eldest son, John, to provide for his half-sisters—but John’s wife, Fanny, isn’t inclined to part with John’s inheritance, so she settles into the Dashwoods’ home and begins making her in-laws’ lives miserable.

Left with few other options, the widowed Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters are forced to rely on the kindness of other family members. One of them, Sir John, an adventurer and monster hunter, offers his cottage on Pestilent Isle. It’s a run-down shanty, surrounded by monster-infested waters, but they have no other choice but to take him up on his offer. Unfortunately, it means that Elinor will have to leave prospective suitor Edward Ferrars behind, but Marianne soon meets charming treasure hunter Willoughby. Margaret, however, is left alone to obsess about the strange chanting she hears outside their new home.

Like its zombie-fighting predecessor, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters offers an amusing new take on a beloved (but admittedly rather stuffy) work of nineteenth-century chick lit. But while Pride and Prejudice and Zombies offered a nearly flawless mash-up of Austen’s prim-and-proper prose and shockingly entertaining undead action, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is sadly lacking in subtlety, style, and consistency.

This time around, the story’s changes feel awkward and unnatural. Somehow, Grahame-Smith managed to make his zombie additions fit almost seamlessly within Austen’s original story, staying true to the original style, substance, and time period of Austen’s work. Winters, on the other hand, seems to have made no real effort to make his sea monster additions seem natural or period-appropriate. Instead, he dresses various characters in wetsuits, has them travel in submarines, and sends them off to visit a massive underground city. Though Winters obviously gives the novel a sci-fi twist, the changes often feel extreme and out of place—and they distract from the rest of the story.

Meanwhile, Winters makes so many changes—in such a wide variety of ways—that the novel feels scattered and random. Instead of focusing on just one threat (or maybe even two), Sea Monsters features every kind of sea-faring danger imaginable. There are unusually violent and blood-thirsty sea creatures, along with giant, mutant sea monsters. There are also pirates and sea witches—and even ancient cavemen. As if that weren’t already enough, there’s also poor Colonel Brandon, who, after being cursed by a sea witch, became half sea creature and grew hideous tentacles all over his face. And, just for fun, Willoughby also has a pet orangutan named Monsieur Pierre. It feels haphazard and disorganized (not to mention just plain ridiculous)—and it makes for a frustrating read.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters has its amusing moments, but, unfortunately, its inconsistencies eclipse its wicked sense of humor. So, for an entertaining Austen mash-up, it’s best to skip the sea monsters and stick with the zombies.

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