The further they get from Jane Austen, the better the zombie mash-up books become.
Enter "Dreadfully Ever After" by Steve Hockensmith, book three in a zombie trilogy that started with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," which was a combination of Jane Austen's classic novel of manners set in the early 1800s and contemporary zombie movie mania.
The first in the series was "Dawn of the Dreadfuls" by Hockensmith. Here the five Bennet sisters became trained in the ninja arts to protect England from brain-chomping zombie hordes known as "dreadful."
"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" follows and is more directly based on the Jane Austen novel. Here, not only do the sisters do battle but they try to find husbands. Elizabeth Bennet meets Lord Darcy — a scion of a notable zombie-battling clan — they fall in love and marry.
"Dreadfully Ever After" is more a sequel to "Dawn" than to "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." Also written by Hockensmith, "Dreadfully" covers what happens next.
Since Jane Austen did not write a sequel to her classic novel, Hockensmith has a free hand to do what he wants with the characters from the original. And what he does is entertaining.
Taking up the story four years after Elizabeth Bennet has married Lord Darcy, we find the relationship having its rough spots. Darcy worries that his wife is dissatisfied with him; she is reluctant to admit that she's not interested in having children and wants to go back to fighting.
All this is forgotten by the end of the first chapter when Darcy is bitten by a zombie, thereby dooming him to hunger for bloody flesh and oozing brains as he slowly rots away.
Is there a cure? Told that there might be one, Elizabeth and her sisters — since it quickly becomes a family affair — go to London to find the antidote. In the meantime, Darcy goes back to his home where his aunt, the fearsome zombie killer Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and her daughter Anne will keep him as human as they can until Elizabeth returns with a miracle.
Nothing is as it seems in either place. Toss in a royal coronation, a partitioned London with zombie-filled and zombie-free zones, various crazed aristocrats, a "Man in a Box" who has a history with the Bennets, and a huge rabbit called Brummell, and you have a romp of a Regency romance laced with graphic descriptions of meals unfit for human consumption.
As for the happy ending? That depends on your point of view. Chomp!
"Dreadfully Ever After" by Steve Hockensmith; Quirk Books, Philadelphia (288 pages, $12.95)