Review: Little Women and Werewolves, by Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand

It's been a while since I read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I think my seeing the Broadway musical in 2005 was more recent than the last time I read the book. Fortunately, the entire work is available online, so anything I had to question was easily checked. I found that, as with Pride and Prejudice (and Zombies) and Sense and Sensibility (and Sea Monsters) most of the original text is in tact, and the additional material does in fact manage to enhance the work, not dumb it down (mostly).

Unlike those two Austen works (published by Quirk), Little Women and Werewolves comes to us from Del Rey (an imprint of Random House) and is co-written by new author Porter Grand. While the werewolf gimmick works well within the confines of the sometimes homely and blasé source material, I have the same complaint about it that I had for the two Austen mashups; there is an all-around serious lack of irony that seems necessary in horror films and yet does not appear in these novels. Amanda Grange's Mr. Darcy, Vampyre had ample irony, but it lacked a good enough story to make that irony worth the trouble.

In all three of these mashups, the gimmick is included in the main story within the first sentence. I get it. You need a hook. I accept that. But the title should do that. I would appreciate this book so much more if the characters didn't start off talking about their book's particular affliction as if they've never done so before. In Little Women and Werewolves, their full-moon-challenged canine friends have been around for quite some time. It seems almost lazy to bring it up on page one if page one has nothing to do with the horror.

Grand, in this case, has included a fictional letter prior the story's text from a publisher by the name of Mandrake Wells to Louisa May Alcott. It hints that the story we're going to read is in fact a "lost manuscript" of Alcott's, a version of Little Women before the final edit. I hate it when authors do that. I know it's in the spirit of fun, but I just think it's rude. Granted, history tells us that Alcott had an affinity for the gothic novel and for the more fantastical end of fiction. But the highly sexualized presence of the werewolves seems unlikely for Alcott. Example a) the scene where Jo spots Laurie through the window, example b) the scene were Laurie fulfills the condition that Amy made for their getting married, example c) Beth and Mr. Laurence's relationship.

The author here has set her book apart from the Quirk mashups in one other kind of a peculiar way. With Austen, we were talking about Zombies and Sea Monsters, both of which are just that; they are constantly that which horrifies. In these cases, they're an everyday problem, or at least it's made so by putting London in an underwater dome. *sigh* But with werewolves, they're only really a problem on the night of the full moon. Sure, the stigma continues to be there, but it's been made clear that the upper classes (and most of Europe) have accepted that anyone could be or become a werewolf, and that they're only dangerous for 12 (12.37) nights per year. And even then, most of them are overly conscious of their behavior and they will only kill when they absolutely must (or, apparently for some kind of revenge).

The real monsters in this book would appear to be "The Brigade," an army of leather- and metal-covered men whose goal is to discover and kill werewolves and their sympathizers. However, they are pretty consistently arresting and murdering non-werewolves and an array of persons who may or may not be sympathetic to the lycanthrope society. If they were truly doing their job correctly, then by the end of the book everyone would be dead. Unfortunately for them, their presence is mostly laughable and Alcott's characters both survive and thrive, as she meant them to.

Little Women and Werewolves
By Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand
416 pages
Del Rey
(May 4, 2010)

Also published this month was Lynn Messina's Little Vampire Women. Judging by the cover, alone (yes, I totally judge some books by their covers), I think I'll stay from that one.


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