The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau

I’m a sucker for a good romantic adventure novel, especially English adventure novels written in the late 1800s and early 1900s that embody British Imperialist ideas. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, Captain Blood by Raphael Sabatini, and Prester John by John Buchan are a few of my favorites. And thus it was with relish that I soaked up the adventures of Rudolf Rassendyll in Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda.

Anthony Hope is a master of the genre and his Mr. Rassendyll is an appropriately believable superman along the same lines as Percy Blakeney. The plot of The Prisoner of Zenda is tightly constructed will colorful and memorable characters, a devious villain, and numerous plot twists. If you are a fan of adventure stories, you really ought to read this book.

One theme that runs through the story is the age old theme of Love versus Duty. Rassendyll happens to be an exact look-alike for his distant relative, the king of Ruritania, and as the king is kidnapped while Rassendyll is conveniently vacationing in the country, he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy to impersonate the monarch until the true king can be rescued. Along the way, Rassendyll falls in love with the king’s fiancée. This, of course, makes him question whether he really wants the king to be rescued or not. It wouldn’t be giving anything away to say that Rassendyll, like any good subject of the British Empire, makes a good Roman decision and chooses Duty.

The sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda, Rupert of Hentzau, is another matter. It has flashes of the same brilliance and charm as the first book, but rather than a tightly constructed plot, there is a rambling narrative with too many loose ends. Also in Hope revisits the Duty versus Love question, ramps up the moral dilemma, increases tension to the breaking point and finally comes up with...the BIGGEST COP OUT OF ALL TIME! It's a shame really since the first book was so good.

Overall my suggestion is to read The Prisoner of Zenda and skip on the less than adequate sequel.

The Prisoner of Zenda 5/5 stars
Rupert of Hentzau 3/5 stars

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