Hope, Anthony: Prisoner of Zenda, The

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.]


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  1. I haven’t had good luck with classic adventure novels, after all.
    Given your obvious (and understandable) enjoyment of Khaavren, and what you say elsewhere about Sabatini, have you read the original The Three Musketeers? That’s still the gold standard for me — Sabatini at his best never hits the blending of wit, excitement, and (for lack of a more modern word) honor that Dumas seems to sustain effortlessly for most of the book.

  2. Yes, but as I said over in the _Phoenix Guards_ post, I didn’t like the characters–“sufficiently different moral systems that I couldn’t really sympathize with them.”

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