Annette's Reviews > The Prisoner of Zenda

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
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's review
Jul 28, 2011

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bookshelves: classics, gutenberg
Read in July, 2011

Plot in a nutshell: Our hero is an rich, idle young Englishman who might, we are led to believe, be at home in Bertie Wooster's company. But his true character is shown when, on a whim, he hares off to his (fictional) ancestral homeland of Ruritania to see the coronation of its new king. A chance meeting with that king-to-be on the way to the capital reveals the curious fact that they are as like as twins. When the jealous - but very popular - younger brother drugs the king's wine, Rudolph is prevailed upon to go to the coronation in his stead. But what was supposed to be an impersonation of a single day turns into weeks and finally months when the treacherous brother kidnaps the real king and imprisons him (in the castle of Zenda, of course). Rudolph must not only keep up the pretense, but also find a way to free the true king - and especially after meeting the princess Flavia, there are many times he questions whether he even wants to. Honor, of course, wins out, but to find out how you'll have to read it yourself!
According to Wikipedia, this book spawned a whole genera known as "Ruritanian Romance." While it is not the first, even in the modern era, of "mistaken identity" tales (Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper" predates it by the better part of a decade), its mark on later fiction is nevertheless easy to see. Similar plots exist in - just off the top of my head - Heinlein's classic "Double Star," a key episode in "The Horse and His Boy," the movie "Dave," and even an episode of the radio drama "Adventures in Odyssey."
I found it engaging and easy to read, well paced, and even moderately suspenseful for all that I was pretty sure how it would end. Recommended for those interested in old fiction, and "meta" tales of a genera.

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