Review: The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

187. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
Publication: originally published 1894, electronic copy by Project Gutenberg 2006
Genre: Adventure!
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!

The author
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 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?


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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.

Anyone wanna have a Zenda movie marathon with me?

13 thoughts on “Review: The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope”

    1. I really WANT to like Dumas, especially because he does such fun swashbuckling stories! It’s just…well…he RAMBLES. *cough*

      I’m going to give him another shot, though, because I really do want to read The Count of Monte Cristo.

  1. Yes, everyone should read this book! It is like The Princess Bride but without pirates.

    I didn’t like the second book as much. But I don’t want to influence you against it, so I’ll just leave it at that and wait for you to read it.

  2. I LOVE this book. I am a sucker for early-twentieth-century adventure novels (I know this was published slightly before that), and really, the sillier the better. Have you read H. Rider Haggard? Reading his entire oeuvre is going to be one of my projects for later this year or early next year. Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel is a classic and also the first book I ever remember being so absorbing that I genuinely forgot where I was (but I was eight at the time, and less discerning than now). Rafael Sabatini writes the awesomest piratey adventurey books, most notably Scaramouche and Captain Blood. And then my personal favorite, P.C. Wren, who wrote these amazing books Beau Geste, Beau Ideal, and Beau Sabreur, which I just adore.

    …Er, you did not really ask for a treatise on silly adventure novels, but you got one anyway. Because I love them so much and I can’t resist talking about them. And also because I know you enjoy Elizabeth Peters, and if you read all these books, you will be getting a lot more of her jokes. :p


      Have you seen the Scaramouche and Captain Blood movies? They’re really good! Scaramouche is a particular favorite of mine (mostly because of the hair).

      1. I saw the film of one of them, Captain Blood, I think. I remember the silly Frenchman with his terrible French accent. :p

        Seriously, if you read the PC Wren books I would be so excited I would cry. I love those books a lot but nobody reads them nowadays because, well, because they are rather silly. But adventurey!

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