I’ve been hearing about Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda for years now, and last week I finally decided to see if it was all it was cracked up to be. I’m happy to report that I had a great time reading this swashbuckling romp. There’s mistaken identity, romance, and a lot swordplay. At barely 150 pages, there’s a lot of story crammed into this novella.
We meet our protagonist, Rudolph Rassendyll, as he is being prodded by his sister-in-law to make something of his life. Rudolph doesn’t have a profession, isn’t in the military, and really just enjoys having a good time. And it drives his sister-in-law up the wall. To get out of the house, Rudolph declares that he’s going off to Tyrol–but he actually plans to go to Ruritania to learn more about where one of his ancestors came from. Once there, and after accidentally meeting the king-to-be, Rudolph discovers that he is almost identical to the king. And when the king-to-be is drugged by his jealous and ruthless half-brother, the king’s men convince Rudolph to take his place in order to avoid a political crisis.
At this point, the plot twists and turns as Rudolph spars with the king’s brother, Michael, and his henchmen. Meanwhile, the king remains a prisoner in Michael’s castle at Zenda. To complicate matters even more, Rudolph falls in love with the king’s intended–and she with him. After a few chapters, things get even more complicated when one of Michael’s henchmen, Rupert of Hentzau, turns out to be following his own plans. Oh, and he’s a complete psycho, which makes the ending highly entertaining.
I had a lot of fun reading The Prisoner of Zenda. I don’t know if I’ll read the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, because I accidentally spoiled it for myself by reading the summary on Wikipedia. The summary makes it sound like it takes the high adventure of Zenda and turns it into a tragedy. And yet, I really want to spend some more time with Rudolph and Rupert and Flavia.