187. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
Publication: originally published 1894, electronic copy by Project Gutenberg 2006
Rating: 4 birds
Read: September 18, 2010
Source: Project Gutenberg
Summary from Amazon:
Five times made into film versions since its original publication in 1894, The Prisoner of Zenda is a perennially popular adventure and romance story. Hope’s swashbuckling romance transports his English gentleman hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, from a comfortable life in London to fast-paced adventures in Ruritania, a mythical land steeped in political intrigue. Rassendyll must impersonate the rightful king in order to rescue him from the castle Zenda, all the while facing tests of honor with the beautiful Princess Flavia, and enduring tests of strength in his encounters with the villainous Black Michael and his handsome, debonair bodyguard, Rupert of Hentzau.
Anything written before 1920 tends to be hit-or-miss with me, because it either blathers on for an intolerably long time (Alexandre Dumas) or it’s so depressing I can’t stand it (Charles Dickens). I’ve had the most success with adventure stories, children’s stories, and mysteries– so I guess it’s really not surprising that The Prisoner of Zenda is a hit. It’s action-packed, with an almost witty style of writing, and it never blathers. It’s got sword fights, political intrigue, scandals, romance, and a thoroughly likable protagonist, and I really enjoyed reading it!
I had heard about The Prisoner of Zenda before, first through the 1996 TV movie remake (with William Shatner! And the dude who played Mud in Camp Nowhere) and then via this Tor.com blog entry which said I should read it. I’m susceptible to suggestion, so I started reading it during a boring moment at school, and then properly once I got my new Kindle (which I love, btw. More on that later).
From the first chapter I was hooked. It reminded me a bit of P.G. Wodehouse, except less overtly humorous, and it was just plain fun. Then it goes into a scandal (which is always fun), then the intrigue comes up, and then the plot really gets going. It does tend to get slow in some parts, but just when I thought it was getting boring Mr Hope threw in a sword fight or two, and that’s a thing that’ll keep me reading. And even better than the swordfights was the fact that people actually acted in a way I could imagine real people acting (people with a flair for the dramatic, I guess)! Sometimes these old adventure stories have characters that border on stock characters, with unrealistic dialogue and no motivation to speak of. Not The Prisoner of Zenda!
So basically, this is a great book that I think y’all should try. You can start reading it right away, so what’s the hold up?
Other reviews: Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Books
There’s a sequel, too, which I’m going to read eventually, and Mr Hope wrote a lot of other adventure novels– though the Zenda books are his most famous.
Cover is from the Oxford classics edition, because I thought it was the prettiest, if not the most dynamic of covers available.