What is arguably one of the most admired love stories in literature gets severely tested in Steve Hockensmith’s amusingly gory and smoothly comic Dreadfully Ever After, the last book of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trilogy. In keeping with the original classic, it explores the role of women and tradition in a carefully tiered society which, in this series, is beleaguered by increasing numbers of the undead. A sort of natural history of the ‘sorry stricken’ has evolved, where they hide and at what times of the day they like to roam. Still, propriety is demanded in their dispatchment. As an aid to discretion, Oscar Bennett has taken to carrying a vial of burn-acid which will smokelessly incinerate a dreadful corpse on contact but of his five warrior daughters, only Kitty and Mary, who remain unmarried, are allowed to be seen with weapons and actively patrol for dreadfuls. These changes have resulted in new tensions among the Bennett sisters and an opportunity for an old adversary to finally get rid of them all.
Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett have been married for four years and, though still very much in love, Elizabeth is feeling morose. Despite her intensive training and her unparalleled gift for dispatching the undead, the wives of gentlemen in England simply do not carry weapons or engage in the slaying of dreadfuls at all. Visiting her sister Jane to see the newest of four Bingley nieces only adds to her darkened mood. On their walk back to Pemberley, Elizabeth reluctantly confesses to Darcy her relief that they have no children of their own. He is so astounded that, failing to register the signs of danger when it literally crosses his path, he is bitten on the neck by a child dreadful. Elizabeth must act quickly. The usual course of action, amputation of the infected limb, is not an option but Elizabeth knows of another—a serum in the possession of Darcy’s aunt, her greatest enemy, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, that will delay the transformation from human to dreadful. Lady Catherine’s terms are harsh and after removing Darcy to her own home for the treatments, she sends Elizabeth to London, a city now “consuming itself from the inside, like a stillborn dreadful chewing its way through its mother’s womb.” There, by means of subterfuge, guile, and the batting of lashes, she is to obtain an antidote, developed and held in secret by the King’s physician in an impenetrable stronghold.
Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as planned but assistance comes from both a new friend and a surprise reunion with (most of) an old acquaintance. When the King’s re-coronation goes spectacularly, disgustingly awry, the Bennetts and their new allies pull together, among them two non-white children who represent the key to England’s dreadful-free future. Now there is still Darcy to save and the final, entrail-strewn confrontation with Lady Catherine is the very definition of comeuppance. The Bennetts, the Darcys, and the Bingleys are left to preside over the beginnings of a new, less insular, more open-minded England where they do indeed live happily ever after.