Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is a mannered romance about class and love, family and duty, and the fine balance between logic and emotion. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters adds giant mutant crustaceans, two-headed sea dragons, and rampaging narwhals to the mix. Don’t worry, Sea Monsters still tells the protofeminist tale of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor (sense) and Marianne (sensibility) as they try to navigate the upheaval of their changing fortunes. After their father dies, under the strict (and unfair) laws of primogeniture, the family estate must go to their half-brother and his wicked wife. Co-author Ben H. Winters moves the milieu to a bizarre aquatic world populated by pirates and monsters, full of desert islands and undersea domes. You probably know just by looking at its remarkable cover whether or not this book is for you.
Quirk Classics had a big hit earlier this year with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which, uh, added zombies to a Jane Austen classic. In our review of that book, we praised the concept but found the delivery flat. The zombies-and-ninjas riffing seemed a bit trite by 2009–there just wasn’t enough weirdness to make the book especially engaging. In contrast, Winters’s injections in Sea Monsters are wholly bizarre. The disaster of the patriarch’s death–and the loss of inheritance–is metaphorized in the setting, “the Alteration, when the waters of the world grew cold and hateful to the sons of man, and darkness moved on the face of the deep.” Colonel Brandon, a prospective groom with a dark past becomes a betentacled monster here. The entire oppressive system of Regency laws and social customs takes the symbol of a devouring Leviathan, eating up dreams and hopes. In short, Winters takes his conceit beyond mere ironic fancy and actually weaves it successfully into Austen’s classic. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters succeeds because Winters juxtaposes his sea monster tropes so cleanly and weirdly against Austen’s mannered prose without the least bit of ironic winking at the audience. The sheer silliness of it all is beautiful fun.