...Willoughby executed a mocking gesture with his hands, holding the flat of his palm below his nose and wiggling his fingers in comical imitation of Brandon's deformity.
Elinor rolled her eyes. "Why should you dislike him so?"
"I do not dislike him. I consider him, on the contrary, as a very respectable man, who has everybody's good word, and nobody's notice; who has more money than he can spend, more time than he knows how to employ, and two new coats every year. Who, though he may have a thinking mind, has also a fish's face, and should perhaps be more comfortable out of his gentleman's coats and submerged in the tank in my parlour." (from Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, page 56)
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is Ben H. Winters' take on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, with an "Alteration" turning all of the sea creatures in the waters near England into, well, monsters. The book opens with the death of the Dashwood patriarch, who while lying on a beach and torn apart by a hammerhead shark scrawls a plea to his son in the sand, asking that he take care of his current wife and their three daughters, Elinore, Marianne, and Margaret. When the young Mr. Dashwood's wife convinces him that his plans for his stepmother and half-sisters are too generous, the women, essentially penniless, brave the waters and travel to the Devonshire coast to settle on Pestilent Isle. A relative of Mrs. Dashwood, Sir John Middleton, provides the women with a cottage, and they constantly travel to his house on Deadwind Island to visit with him and Lady Middleton -- a woman who was taken against her will from her homeland by Sir John as the adventurer and his men ravaged the area. As in Sense and Sensibility, Marianne falls for Willoughby, Elinor falls for Edward Ferrars, and Colonel Brandon has a thing for Marianne -- and their plans for happiness don't work out they way they wish. Unlike the Austen novel, however, Colonel Brandon is part man and part octopus -- and there are plenty of references to face rot, moving tentacles, and sliminess.
I really wanted to like this one, but I didn't make it past page 141. The book was interesting and amusing in the beginning, and the characters of Lady Middleton and Sir John were hilarious, but after awhile, it started to bore me. While sea monsters are an interesting touch, they weren't well integrated with Austen's story and characters, or at least not well enough in the first half of the book to keep my attention. While zombies were well integrated into Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, with the Bennets and several other main characters trained as zombie slayers, the sea monsters in Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters make an appearance here and there, are killed or fought off, and then the characters go back to their routines.
There are a few references to the Alteration, a sub-marine station, Elinor's visions of a symbol that she eventually sees tattooed on Lucy Steele, and Margaret's fascination with steam coming out of a mountain on the island and her insistence that strange, chanting people are out there somewhere, but I just couldn't get myself to keep reading to find out what happens. After 141 pages, the sea monsters were no longer interesting, and while Winters injects witty dialogue about the sea monsters, it just wasn't enough. I think my biggest issue with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is that Winters takes Jane Austen's writing and adds a bit of his own here and there. I think if Winters had completely re-written the story in his own words, I would have found it unique, and the story would have flowed better. If I'd wanted to read Austen's writing, I would have picked up Sense and Sensibility for a re-read. I was expecting the sea monsters to be a bigger, more clever part of the story, and while it is possible that they do take center stage later on in the book, the pacing in the first half was a bit off and prevented me from continuing. I wanted to know more about the Alteration, the symbol, and the chanting; I wanted more than a few mentions here and there before moving to more tedious scenes.
It's been many years since I read the Austen novel, so I was approaching Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters as someone who didn't remember the details of the original story, and maybe that affected my feelings about the book. Also, in terms of supernatural creatures, sea monsters aren't the most interesting to me, and I was looking for something really exciting to hold my attention. However, I do applaud Winters for taking a chance, as adding sea monsters to a Jane Austen novel is bound to generate strong feelings among readers. Although Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters didn't work for me, I encourage those of you interested in these mashups to give it a try, as I've seen a lot of favorable reviews. And I might even give it another go myself after I re-read Sense and Sensibility later this year for the Jane Austen Challenge.
Stay tuned for an entertaining guest post from Ben H. Winters, author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters from FSB Associates for review purposes.