The Prisoner of Zenda

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The Prisoner of ZendaThe Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
Published: 1894
Narrated by: James Wilby
Series: The Ruritania Trilogy #2
Length: 05:31 (208 pages)

Rudolph Rassendyll is a distant cousin of the royal family of Ruritania, a fictional German-speaking country in the centre of Europe. His sister-in-law, who considers him a complete waste of space, can’t stand his resemblance to those royals because it reminds her of a century-old scandal. An illegitimate child was born in England while a prince of Ruritania was visiting, and now every second generation or so a Rassendyll child is born with their trademark red hair and a long straight nose.

This doesn’t bother Rudolph the way it does his sister-in-law, but the conversation makes him curious to get a glimpse of the royal family. A new king is due to be crowned in Ruritania in a few weeks, and Rudolph decides to attend the coronation. On his arrival, he finds he’s the exact copy of the new king and as a result gets wrapped up in a conspiracy by the king’s half-brother, Black Michael (aptly named to avoid any confusion), to take over the throne.

This one really left me cold. I love me some classic adventure novels, but I just could not bring myself to care at all during this story. It has fencing, sneaking about, (somewhat dodgy) romance, and political intrigue, but it just seemed so dull. The main character is a complete bore, all of the characters are undeveloped, and it just feels like empty Victorian middle-class wish fulfilment. A rich man with no responsibilities travels to a foreign land, speaks their language so perfectly that the king’s new wife can’t even tell them apart, and manages to not only survive but excel in this political hotbed, using only his well-bred wits.

I feel like this would normally be a novel I could really enjoy, but for whatever reason it just got on my nerves. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood. I actually did really like his writing style; it’s just the shallow characters and lazy plot that I couldn’t get past. And there were moments that I liked – Rudolph constantly hesitating to just dive into action, for example, which was a stark contrast to the tone of The Three Musketeers.

This did manage to inspire an entire genre of adventure novels, Ruritanian romances, which involve swashbuckling adventures set in fictional countries, for those novelists who want to base their story in the real world but do not want to get involved in any sort of research.

I didn’t hate everything about this, despite what’s written here, but I would give it a resounding ‘meh’.

2 thoughts on “The Prisoner of Zenda

  1. Silvia

    Really? I’m reading this later in the year for bookclub, and I am now thinking I may not love it as much as I thought.

    I’ll let you know.

    1. Rob Post author

      Looking forward to hearing what you think. I still wonder if I was just in a negative mood while reading this. Many other people seem to really like it.


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