After finishing The Phoenix Guards, I was in a bit of a fix as to what to read next. I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on a copy of its sequel, Five Hundred Years After, until the weekend; the same for Swordspoint or anything else I could think of that might scratch the same itch. So, with some trepidation, I got Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda out of the library. Yes, it’s a classic adventure novel, and it appears in A College of Magics, but I haven’t had good luck with classic adventure novels, after all.
I found this moderately enjoyable. It’s a touch hard to view the plot seriously, because the basic premise (random person forced to impersonate monarchy; hijinks ensue) has become so thoroughly part of the basic toolbox of plot (as has its reverse, monarchy impersonates random person). They are pretty good hijinks, though, and there’s a nifty villain. The narrator’s tone is sometimes a bit light and detached, and he is not unaware of life’s absurdities, but his emotional involvement comes through towards the end (making it a more serious book, I think, than The Phoenix Guards). I got pulled in enough to speed through the book, which wasn’t too hard as it’s quite short. (Alas, the narrator is also a sexist pig, and though the heroine does get a shining moment, it just points out how restricted women’s options were at the time.)
Unfortunately, I can’t read the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau (the nifty villain). I avoided reading my copy’s academic introduction until I was done the book, being well aware of the tendency of academic introducers to cheerfully spoil books left and right—but I didn’t expect it to spoil the sequel, too. Hmmph.
[Both The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau are in the public domain and can be found online in a number of places, such as at the Literature Network.]