When an English nobleman travels to the European kingdom of his ancestor, he just wants to escape his sister-in-law’s nagging about him being a good-for-nothing. However, shortly after his arrival, he finds himself in the complicated position of impersonating the king in order to stop an evil Duke from taking over the kingdom. Things are complicated even further by his duty of romancing the king’s intended bride and the fact that the king is imprisoned in a place where no rescue seems possible.
When The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope was first released, it popularized what came to be called the “Ruritanian romance”, a type of novel that got its name from Ruritania, the kingdom in which most of the events in The Prisoner of Zenda take place. It is worth nothing that at the time of the book’s release romance still meant adventure rather than the modern meaning of the word. It’s easy to see why it was popular then--the swashbuckling adventure of the narrative, the intrigue among the upper classes of society, and the touch of ultimately tragic romance. It still holds up well today for those who like historical adventure novels, even if the “history” is entirely fictional.
Content issues are all minor: A few mild swear words; an unnecessary doomed romance between the protagonist and the real king’s intended bride that involves kissing; and some sly references to an affair that produced the protagonist’s ancestor as well as even vaguer hints at the immoral behavior of some of the villains. I don’t really have any additional criticisms for this novel, other than that, while it is quite good, it left me with the feeling that it could have been better than it is. For those who like historical adventure, or who just want to experience the novel that first popularized swashbuckling adventure set in a fictional kingdom, The Prisoner of Zenda should prove entertaining.
(c) 2011 Jonathan Garner