Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters

sssSense and Sensibility has never been my favorite Austen book. In fact, it’s the one I read last and it’s the last on my watch list saved for times when I am in an extremely tolerant mood. Why? Well, Marianne gets on my nerves. Elinor’s reserve and what she puts up with also irritates me. And then I’ve never been very fond of John letting his wife dictate how much he could give his sisters and convinces himself it’s okay to leave his sisters destitute when he could make their lives more comfortable. Beyond all this, there is the amount of ruminating in the text!

So, when I saw someone had added sea monsters to the book, I thought it could either go very badly or very well. There would be no middle ground here! I took a bargain that the book would be better than the original for me because it now had some action to liven it up.

I first listened to Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters on CD. This was my review:

“I cannot say how the book is, but the audio transported me into a world I frankly didn’t think I’d like. Picturing Colonel Brandon as a Cthulhu monster was at first disturbing, but the author brought him through in true Jane Austen style, making the reader care for him as no normal man would deserve. The world in which this book is set is thrilling and new. The narrator, Katherine, does a great job of making you forget that there even is a narrator. She has the special talent of making you feel as if the book and characters are telling the story instead of someone behind the mic.”

Re-reading the book in print form was an experience I enjoyed as well. Colonel Brandon has always been the shining character and he was still. In this retelling, the world has been infected with some sort of evil fish disease they call the “alteration” which means anything that comes from the sea wants to kill humans. From the smallest sea turtle to the largest killer whale, from science fiction-like characters like the Leviathan or the double headed fang-beast to the smallest minnow, they all want us dead. For this reason, most people live in houses fortified with sea beast dispelling defenses.

TheFangBeastThis story has everything from pirates to sea witches to octo-men. The most interesting fishy character is Colonel Brandon who’s been cursed by a sea witch and is now part octopus. His beard of tentacle appendages plays a big part in the story and often adds comedy relief. Aside from Brandon, all the other characters are how you know them, if only a bit more preoccupied by the big fishy problem. Marianne is passionately interested in pirate battles and sunken ships, while Elinor has made it a point to study the attributes of all sea life and more importantly, how to kill them.

The story follows pretty much to the original story with Willoughby still being a jerk and Lucy Steele still being an annoying obstacle to the happiness between Elinor and Edward. One thing the contemporary author Ben H Winters adds to this new edition is a lot of fish massacres and action sequences, but he didn’t do it in the normal way, inserting action where there is a boring part of the book. He took the times when there was tension in the original–like when Lucy tells Elinor she is secretly engaged to Edward–and added a two-headed fang-beast to attack the girls. Not only do you have this tense scene where someone is finding out their beloved is engaged to someone else, but she must fight off a beast at the same time.

seamonsterMy favorite part in this book is their visit to Sub-Station Beta (which I believe is the author’s clever way of saying Bath). The sub-station is a dome underneath the water where all the most fashionable people vacation. This is a bit of sarcasm on the author’s part, because I don’t think anyone living in a world where fish want to kill humans would build an aquarium-like structure underwater where humans live and are totally exposed to mass-murdering fishies. There is also an ominous mention of a Sub-Station Alpha where everything went terribly wrong.

With the fishy world you are plunged into and the brilliant sense of humor of the author, this book is completely fun and in my opinion better than the original. Sorry, Jane. 😦 And I sure hope they make this into a movie!


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