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The Henchmen of Zenda

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Swordfights, lust, betrayal, murder: just another day for a henchman.

Jasper Detchard is a disgraced British officer, now selling his blade to the highest bidder. Currently that's Michael Elphberg, half-brother to the King of Ruritania. Michael wants the throne for himself, and Jasper is one of the scoundrels he hires to help him take it. But when Michael makes his move, things don’t go entirely to plan—and the penalty for treason is death.

Rupert of Hentzau is Michael's newest addition to his sinister band of henchmen. Charming, lethal, and intolerably handsome, Rupert is out for his own ends—which seem to include getting Jasper into bed. But Jasper needs to work out what Rupert’s really up to amid a maelstrom of plots, swordfights, scheming, impersonation, desire, betrayal, and murder.

Nobody can be trusted. Everyone has a secret. And love is the worst mistake you can make.

A retelling of the swashbuckling classic The Prisoner of Zenda from a very different point of view.

232 pages, ebook

First published May 15, 2018

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About the author

K.J. Charles

59 books8,629 followers
KJ is a writer of romance, mostly m/m, historical or fantasy or both. She blogs about writing and editing at http://kjcharleswriter.com.

She lives in London, UK, with her husband, two kids, and a cat of absolute night.

Twitter https://twitter.com/kj_charles
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Please **do not** message me on Goodreads as I no longer check the inbox due to unwanted messages.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 451 reviews
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,629 followers
May 14, 2018
The Prisoner of Zenda is one of the big (in stature, it's very short) Victorian pulp novels, the rip-roaring swashbuckling tale of an Englishman posing as a king in a nonexistent medievalist European country. It has beautiful princesses, dastardly skulduggery, a hot-as-fire villain, endless swordfights, a lot of highly dubious Victorian attitudes with a lot of misogyny and whiffs of racism, and a remarkably high body count. There is a Douglas Fairbanks Jr movie. It's that sort of book.

I love Zenda but I have always felt that the first-person narrator was a jerk, and once I was given the opportunity to screw about with it rewrite the story, it became apparent that he was a liar as well. This version is what (imo) really happened, as narrated by one of the Evil Duke's Evil Henchmen. It is substantially queerer than the original is (on page at least, Victorian novels are subtext-tastic), and has significantly more sex.

Let me add, the cover is by Simone and is absolutely stellar. I adore it.


Do I need to read the original first?
You definitely don't have to--we had it read by people who didn't know the original, to be sure. I think readers who know it will have more fun, myself, and the original is free on the internet and very short. But your call.

Is this a romance, with a HEA?
I'd probably go for 'pulp adventure with strong romantic elements'.
Profile Image for Eli Easton.
Author 76 books2,658 followers
May 18, 2018
This book is so fantabulous, I want to hold it up and sing songs to it.
OK, that might be a bit much. But it really is marvelous. The writing is excellent and the daring-do characters are so much fun. This is definitely an intrigue/swashbuckler tale with a dash of romance, as opposed to the other way around, but it is a perfect read IMHO. Just smashing.
Profile Image for Kaje Harper.
Author 76 books2,537 followers
June 5, 2018
The original Prisoner of Zenda is a lot of fun, and has some definite homoerotic moments to it. Rupert was clearly the dynamic figure in it, and here he gets his due as the love interest of Jasper Detchard - disgraced officer for hire. We get to watch these two forge a relationship while they swash and buckle, and plot and connive and sometimes fuck their way through the convoluted plot of the missing king, body double on the throne, sharp princess, and more. It was great reimagining of the classic tale.

Jasper is a solid main character as an intelligent, dangerous, gay man with loyalty where he chooses to put it, just a few scruples (but not too many) and a clear-headed view of those around him. Rupert is what the original author envisioned - brilliant, talented, insouciant, wild and fond of risk just for the fun of it. They make a good contrast and a believable couple.

The tone of this takes its cue from the original story. As such, there's a little detachment - Jasper is not about to admit to deep feelings, and although you detect them from reading between the lines, the story allows itself adventure, danger and mayhem without depths of resulting emotion. It's fitting, and fun, but not as captivating as some of this author's characters for me. Still, as a story full of humor and adventure this worked well. I don't know how it would read for someone not familiar with the original tale in either writing or movie (I enjoyed both, and couldn't help picturing Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Rupert.) I think it would hold together as a self-contained story, but there was added fun in seeing the original upended (particularly in the dethroning of Rudolf Rassendyll from his heroic pose.) And the end wrapped things nicely.
Profile Image for Nemo ☠️ (pagesandprozac).
879 reviews411 followers
May 29, 2018
not my favourite kj charles, i must admit. *banging my knife and fork on the table next to my empty plate* GIVE ME MORE ROMANCE!!!

ok, but seriously, i did really like it. full of intrigue and adventure, and as i'd never even heard of The Prisoner of Zenda before, much less read it, i literally had no fucking clue what was going to happen next. so that was quite fun, although at some parts i have to admit i was slightly confused - but everything cleared up eventually.

about the romance. it wasn't one. and that's not, inherently, a bad thing in a novel. well, when i say "it wasn't one" maybe i just mean "it was highly unconventional" but the fact remains that this wasn't very romantic and i thought it was a Romance and i don't know WHAT has happened to me because i used to be all, "ew, romance" and NOW look at me. i blame my boyfriend.

no, seriously. when the hell did i become so... so... ROMANTIC?

look at this book, making me Realise things about myself.

IN CONCLUSION. it was good. really good. i'd recommend it if you like swashbuckling historical adventures and gay sex. but don't expect a Romantic Romance that is Romantic. and, actually, if i had been paying attention at all (but honestly, when have i ever known what was going on?) i'd have known that the author was like "heyyy this isn't actually a conventional romance so don't expect it to be or anything" but i... didn't read that! so yeah. actually my fault.)
Profile Image for Caz.
2,761 reviews1,033 followers
June 29, 2018
I've given this an A- at AAR, so 4.5 stars rounded up.

I’ve been looking forward to The Henchmen of Zenda, K.J. Charles’ ‘queered’ retelling of the classic The Prisoner of Zenda, ever since she announced it months ago, and in fact the book made my ‘most eagerly awaited of 2018 list‘ at AAR.  I love a ripping adventure yarn, and that’s exactly what the author has delivered – a tale of swashbuckling derring-do featuring a pair of amoral, cynical and devil-may-care anti-heroes, palace intrigue, political shenanigans, double crosses, triple crosses… and hot sex.  The latter being missing from Anthony Hope’s original novel, which isn’t surprising considering it was written in 1894. 😛  The Henchmen of Zenda can be enjoyed without reference to the original, although I’ll admit that for me, part of the fun was spotting the places where the stories meshed and picking up on the in-jokes.

For anyone not familiar with The Prisoner of Zenda, the story is basically this. Rudolf V, the new King of (the fictional) small European country of Ruritania, is drugged on the eve of his coronation by those working for his half-brother, Michael, Duke of Strelsau, who wants the throne for himself.  In a desperate attempt to stop Michael, those loyal to the king persuade an English gentleman (Rudolf Rassendyll) who bears an uncanny resemblance to the monarch and happens to be holidaying in their country to impersonate the king during the coronation.  Things are complicated when Michael’s men kidnap the king and Rassendyll falls in love with the Princess Flavia, who is Rudolf’s betrothed; complications, plots and counter-plots ensue, Rassendyll leads an assault on the castle of Zenda and rescues the king, and then honourably bows out, leaving Flavia to do her duty to her king and country.

When our narrator, Jasper Detchard, immediately dismisses Rassendyll’s account as a pile of shit, and Rassendyll as an uptight prick who lied to make himself look good, the reader immediately knows they’re in for a rollicking good time.  Detchard’s deadpan, sarcastic narrative style grabbed me right away:

“My name is Jasper Detchard, and according to Rassendyll’s narrative, I am dead.  This should give you some idea of his accuracy, since I do not dictate these words to some cabbage-scented medium from beyond the veil.”

A disgraced former army officer who now makes his living as a mercenary, Detchard is approached by Michael Elphberg, Duke of Strelsau, to become one of his trusted bodyguard (known as The Six).   Michael demands absolute, unquestioning loyalty, and Detchard, not one to be overly picky as to where he lays his hat or sells his sword – signs up. As it turns out, for more than he bargained for.

I’m not going to say more about the plot because it’s twisty and complex and full of clever moves, counter moves and counter-counter moves and I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say that Detchard’s reasons for accepting Michael’s offer aren’t quite as transparent as they seem and he’s going to be playing a dangerous game. So the last thing he needs is the distraction provided by the reckless, outrageously gorgeous, larger-than-life young ne’er-do-well, Rupert of Hentzau.

He’s a former companion of the debauched king, a turncoat and a late addition to Michael’s exclusive band of murderers and assassins; and Detchard is, despite his better judgement and innate cynicism, captivated by the younger man’s beauty and insouciance, recognising a kindred spirit of sorts, a dangerous man of questionable (if any) morals who seems to share his no-fucks-left-to-give attitude to life. Hentzau is a force of nature, and even though Michael has forbidden any *ahem* fraternization, Hentzau blithely disregards that instruction and is clearly as interested in getting into Detchard’s breeches as Detchard is in having him there.

One of the big differences between this and the original novel is that K.J. Charles has given these characters personalities and lives of their own that go beyond what we see on the page. The sub-plot involving Michael’s mistress, Antoinette de Mauban, adds depth and another, more personal, layer to the story, and I loved the way that both she and Princess Flavia are so much more than the mere cyphers of the original novel. These are ladies who know how to play the game – and they’re better at it than the men.

The stars of the show are, of course, Detchard and Hentzau – liars, cheats, murderers and a hundred other despicable things – and yet immensely engaging and entertaining as they rattle their way through the pages with reckless glee. Ms. Charles creates a strong connection between the pair which evolves naturally and realistically from an initial wariness to eventual trust, with plenty of steamy hook-ups along the way. Their chemistry is electric, their verbal sparring is as entertaining as their swordplay (both euphemistically and otherwise!) and their relationship is refreshingly frank and down-to-earth. Neither is interested in or comfortable with the concept of ‘romance’ but something clearly evolves between them that is more than mere physical attraction; they come to respect and admire each other… not that either would ever admit to such a thing, of course, and while there isn’t an HEA in the traditional sense, it’s as close to happy ever after as these two are ever going to get (or want) and that feels absolutely right.

The Henchmen of Zenda is a rollicking adventure romp of the best sort; full of flashing blades, tight breeches, nefarious plots, scheming villainy and snarky dialogue but with a subplot that confers depth and insight into the characters and their motivations. It’s funny, sexy and clever and I loved every minute of it.
Profile Image for h o l l i s .
2,477 reviews1,895 followers
March 27, 2018
Heroes are dashing. I prefer winning.

I just don't know, guys! Charles is one of those authors I can just depend on. I know I will have great writing (check), a delicious pairing (check check), and an interesting or clever plot (checkity checks), but maybe not being familiar with the book this kind of spins off from kept me from connecting? I don't know.

"Michael has forbidden me to fuck you, but since I imagine that has deprived me of at most half an hour's mild entertainment--"
"Oh, now, that's just rude."
"--I am happy to obey him."

I thought the beginning was great. I love cheeky narrator syndrome, loved this older character, loved that he was no hero. And the match-up with the younger man, and the conflict of twisting and shifting allegiances, was excellent. I also really liked the ending. But even as loyalties shifted in the middle, sending us down new avenues and revealing unexpected twists, it was that middle portion of this story that kind of lost me. I loved the heavy play of politics whilst simultaneously I ended up.. bored? Charles' prose and wit definitely kept me from becoming too checked out but it's rare I can ever tear myself away from one of her books and yet I put this down a lot.

"The world is your oyster. You're free."
"Some might say I've disgraced my name, abandoned my family, and exiled myself from my native land."
"That's what I mean."

I'm so conflicted (if you couldn't tell). I love that this author always does the unconventional, makes the weird wonderful, but this one is just a bit of a miss for me; or rather it's not so much a miss, but a read that I just can't round up on despite enjoying most of it.

3.5 "Hentzau could bring life to a funeral home" stars

** I received an ARC from the author (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **
Profile Image for Nichola.
38 reviews6 followers
April 3, 2018
It is safe to say that I am 110% the target audience for this book.

You may, dear reader, be familiar with the popular adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”?

In this case, I beg you, DO judge a book by its cover, for the art designed to accompany The Henchmen of Zenda faithfully conveys the spirit and substance of the book: a classic ripping yarn of swashbuckling Ruritanian highjinks, which is unabashedly gay AF.

Do you like dashing chaps in inadvisably tight trousers and big white shirts? Scenes of sexy duelling? Nefarious plots? Dastardly villains? Competent ladies? Frenemies who are well aware it would be a very bad plan to shag each other senseless, but who are inevitably going to end up doing exactly that? Then this, my friend, is the book for you!

Let me reassure you that you don’t need to have read The Prisoner of Zenda in order to understand and thoroughly enjoy The Henchmen of Zenda, but if you have either read the book or seen one of the movie adaptations you will have even more fun with this spin on the story. The original is narrated by one Rudolf Rassendyll, as fine and pompous an upstanding English gentleman as one might hope to encounter in any Boys’ Own Adventure Tale, and it recounts how he comes to stand in for his distant cousin (and convenient doppelgänger) the King of Ruritania, wooing his bride, battling his enemies, saving his life and generally having a jolly good time telling himself what a decent and heroic chap he is.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable romp, but rife with misogyny and with that particularly obnoxious conviction that sent my countrymen surging out of our little island to conquer most of the planet: the bone-deep certainty that an Englishman is inherently superior to all other kinds of human.

The Henchmen of Zenda retains the gleeful air of reckless adventure and the bones of the story, but it’s narrated by an entirely different character with an entirely different perspective. Jasper Detchard is an unrepentant and highly competent ne’er-do-well who has merrily fought and fucked his way across Europe; he has his own reasons for signing up with the villain as one of his henchmen, and frankly the last thing he needs is the distraction of reckless young reprobate (and outrageous hotass) Rupert of Hentzau.

To say that sparks fly would be an understatement.

As with all of KJ Charles’s books, though, what makes it stand out isn’t the sexual tension or the sex, splendid as that aspect is - it’s the characterisation and the world building. Whereas Hope’s book The Prisoner of Zenda mostly presents its characters as cyphers (Rupert of Hentzau alone standing out as memorable and distinct, with the narrator describing him in the frankly gushing terms of a teen with a crush), The Henchmen of Zenda fleshes everyone out and gives them more human motivations. I couldn’t help caring about the characters - or at least Detchard, Hentzau, Antoinette and Flavia - and hoping they would somehow navigate their way through this tangled mess with hearts and necks intact. On the other hand, there are plenty of thoroughly vile characters one can wholeheartedly enjoy hating.

All told, it’s fair to say that this story delivers all the joy of a swashbuckling oldskool movie without the problematic misogynistic bits, or the relentless heterosexuality. It’s like really good hot chocolate with a slug of rum, or a kiss on the back of the neck.

I love Charles’s original fiction, with its freshness and curiosity about historical settings and what makes people tick, but there is also a particular joy to clever derivative works like Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead, Lost In Austen etc, where a writer takes something familiar and shows it to you from a fresh angle. It’s one of the things that I love about fanfiction, but it’s done badly in published works as often as in amateur fanfic (as most of the legion of Austen derivative work sadly demonstrates). Unsurprisingly KJ Charles does it very, very well. In this case a problematic favourite is rendered a straightforward favourite - I cannot WAIT for the audiobook to come out, and I know I’m going to reread this again and again.

(I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.)
Profile Image for Teal.
608 reviews201 followers
May 21, 2018
Still working on my review -- Although there are already so many great ones for this book -- I'm not sure I've seen a book recently that inspired so many outstanding reviews! Mine isn't actually necessary, but --


In the meantime I simply have to ask, for those of you who've read it, are those Easter eggs* in the last few pages, OR WHAT???

I mean, unless I'm sadly mistaken, isn't that

Did you all hear my shriek when I read that? Or maybe I just shouted "Holy shit!" at a volume sufficient to be heard across the globe.

I immediately set to work on ferreting out the identity of the other two characters mentioned. And the woman immediately made me think of Lola Montez, but some quick checking showed the timing and details are wrong --


Too much awesome in one book, I am utterly gobsmacked. Holy shit, KJC.

*Easter egg: "an intentional inside joke, hidden message or secret feature of a work"
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books751 followers
June 24, 2019
I did like this more than Swordspoint, which is the impetus for selecting this book (along with a buddy to discuss it). Romance novels and I still have a disagreement about which parts of erotic love are worth sharing, but the other parts were generally quite fun.

CONTENT WARNING: (no actual spoilers, just a list of topics)

Things to love:

-Jasper. A despicable man with just enough redeeming qualities to make him interesting. At first I suspected I was about to fall madly in love, but I was saved from that fate.

-The beginning. From the Publisher's Note until about 25%, it's hilarious. It read almost exactly as I would have wanted, and sounded like we were about to get an even funnier retelling of Prisoner of Zenda but from Jasper's POV and a new set of gothic adventure that I was very excited to read about.

-The women. I thought that Antoinette and Flavia were actually fairly well rounded in Prisoner, but that's amped up here. When done well, I enjoy when authors explore the power that women can find within the confinement of the roles men pick for them.

Things that let me down:

-The romance. First of all, not the quarter I expected and while I'm not upset about the result, I think there were a few interesting 'ships unexplored. But also, I just don't love reading sex scenes, and there were many. I think the author does love sex scenes, and so the plot suffered for taking a backseat to the steamy bits.

-The plot. For the most part, this just retells Prisoner of Zenda, and while I was expecting a companion novel that tied in with the narrative we received from Prisoner, I expected this to be a bit more of a divergence, or at least share some things we hadn't gathered from Prisoner. It largely did not, which again, not the worst, but I think was a missed opportunity.

-Failure to commit. So, okay. If this was an erotic novel thinly disguised with one of the classic gothic romances, I think there were a few tropes that should have been investigated a lot further. Michael's cruelty and dominance, the precarious position of power, Jasper's hang dog outlook...if this were meant to titillate, I think it could have been capitalized on better. If this is a gothic romance centered around gay men, I think we really left a lot on the table action and emotion-wise. Either not manipulative enough or not sweet enough, I'm not entirely sure which. I was hoping sweeter, I guess, but hey, I appreciate art well executed.

Glad I got to this because I read Prisoner, which was delightful, and this was a romp. I apologize to the neighbors who discovered that this was erotica at the same time I did while I was weeding in my yard. Lesson learned, wear ear buds.
Profile Image for Adam.
611 reviews313 followers
June 28, 2018
Tag team review with Lost in a Book!

Another entertaining tale from KJ Charles!

I haven’t read The Prisoner of Zenda, and so had no idea of Ruritanian romance. But I thoroughly enjoyed the outcome - a blend of adventure, political intrigue, complex characters, and an out-of-the-ordinary romance.

The book introduces us to Jasper Detchard, a mercenary with little to no scruples. He moves from one European country to the next, doing the bidding of whoever buys his sword. But Jasper has one fatal flaw - he’s incredibly loyal to the few people he considers his own.

This loyalty brings him to Ruritania, a small European country ruled by the dysfunctional and despotic Elphbergs. Jasper enters the service of Michael Elphberg, the illegitimate half-brother of the king, and soon finds himself in the middle of a grand conspiracy.

I love some good action fiction in a historical setting. ‘The Henchmen of Zenda’ delivers on that front. Ruritania is a land of intrigue, the result of a ruling family that spends a lot of time fighting amongst themselves, and that has little regard for the common people.


We see the story play out through Jasper’s POV, with the web of lies, back-stabbing, murder, and double-crossing getting more and more complicated as the story progresses.

I won’t give anything away, except to say that if you like swashbuckling tales of adventure and mayhem, this’ll be right up your alley!

While the adventure itself was highly entertaining, another big attraction as Rupert of Hentzau, a minor Ruritanian nobleman also in Michael Elphberg’s service. Where Jasper is sober and prefers to work in the shadows, Rupert is a peacock. He has a zest for life and just wants to spend his days fighting and fucking.

The attraction between Jasper and Rupert is immediate, but it takes a while for the two to admit anything more than that. They’re hard men who live hard lives, and so keep their emotions under check. But they definitely show each other how the feel in the bedroom!

This isn’t your typical MM romance. If you’re expecting grand declarations of love, you won’t find them here. But it’s very obvious that Rupert and Jasper find in each other an equal match that gives them the happiness they didn’t expect to ever want or find.


I would describe the ending as a happy ever after. It’s not your typical HEA, but these aren’t your typical MCs. It’s certainly the perfect ending for Jasper and Rupert.

If you’re looking for an MM read with with an enthralling adventure plot and don’t mind a different sort of love story, I’d definitely recommend ‘The Henchmen of Zenda’!

Profile Image for Ashley.
2,775 reviews1,777 followers
November 21, 2022
This honestly might be five stars on re-read, but I've been handing out five star ratings like they're candy, and I've come off my book high now. This is a strong 4.5 stars for now.

Firstly, this is a retelling of The Prisoner of Zenda, a Ruritanian Romance/Adventure/Swashbuckler from the late 1800s, written by Anthony Hope. I've never read the original, but before diving into this I did read the detailed summary of the book and I'm really glad I did that, because it was fun seeing what Charles changed and tweaked, although our narrator, Jasper Detchard, also informs us of the big things that the original "got wrong" (in this book, the original is played off as a memoir of the "player-king" Rudolf Rassendyll, a distant cousin of the king of Ruritania who is called upon to impersonate said king).

You can tell that Charles just had an incredibly amount of fun, not only with reworking a book that she obviously has great affection for (and criticism of), but also writing a different kind of romance, one where the heroes are morally grey at best, villains at worst, and who don't hold to monogamy. There are plots and swashbuckling and schemes ahoy in this book, and it was an incredible amount of fun to read. It's a relatively short book, but she really packs a whole bunch in here. There is not a dull moment to be found.

Highly recommend! Just know you're not getting a traditional romance, but more of an adventure story and you'll have a grand old time.
Profile Image for Briar.
835 reviews
August 2, 2022
Thank you very much to KJ Charles for providing a copy of her novel in exchange for an honest review.

Every time I find out that KJ Charles has a new book coming out, I get ridiculously excited, but this time I was over the moon. Why? Because this time, KJ has taken a classic tale of adventure, manly courage and unstable politics, and flipped the entire thing on its head by retelling this story with queer men, untraditional antiheroes and badass women.

While The Prisoner of Zenda has been on my TBR for years, I haven’t yet had the chance to read it. Reading The Henchmen of Zenda, a story based upon the original, I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t understand KJ’s take — having read almost all of KJ’s bibliography, I went into this book fairly confident that I would not only enjoy the book, but love it. And, oh boy, did I!

I’m seriously starting to think KJ can do no wrong. I read this book in two sittings, poised on the edge of my seat and laughing almost at every page. KJ’s unique retelling is set from the perspective of Jasper Detchard, one of the villainous Six, a group of six Henchmen belonging to Duke Michael of Strelsau, the half-brother of the King of Ruritania. Michael has wanted the throne for himself for years, and, along with his Six, designs a plot to seize it. But, things go wildly out of control and Jasper and his love interest, the indomitable Rupert of Hentzau, are forced to take measures into their own hands.

Jasper is definitely an antihero — and he knows it. He’s a murderer, a thief, a liar, a cheat, a thug, and a hundred other villainous terms you can think of. He can count on one hand the number of people he cares about and still have three fingers left over. He’s genuinely one of my favourite antiheroes, because he’s so different from the usual sort of Victorian heroes you come across: he’s not a heartthrob, he’s not someone who goes out of his way to protect his lover because he knows fully well they can protect themselves, and he’s thirty-six and semi-handsome (sorry Jasper). He’s only involved in this entire thing to save a close friend. And then he meets Rupert.

Rudolf Rassendyll, the original narrator of Anthony Hope’s novel, describes Rupert of Hentzau as “reckless and wary, graceful and graceless, handsome, debonair, vile, and unconquered” — a quote Jasper frequently comes back to because it’s so accurate. Rupert is, essentially, a little shit — and Jasper can’t help but fall for him.

I was so enraptured by Jasper and Rupert’s relationship because it really is like nothing I’ve ever come across before in the romance genre. I have a headcanon that Jasper is aromantic – this is my belief, not the author’s, although I think there are some examples in the text – so I loved seeing how Jasper and Rupert’s relationship developed when one (both) of them is a degenerate and the other is someone who doesn’t like to form strong, romantic relationships with people, because he’s uncomfortable with the expectations romance comes with. Jasper and Rupert fit very well together, and the development of their relationship evolved naturally and wonderfully.

Like all KJC books, you can really tell that KJ has done her research. Although Ruritania is a fake country created by Anthony Hope, KJ brought the country to life through her vivd descriptions of Zenda and the Ruritanian countryside. You definitely know what you’re getting when you read KJ’s books: you know you’ll get a great romance, but more than that, an incredibly entertaining, well-researched historical novel.

If you’re looking for a story from the antihero’s perspective, a story with murder, treason, double and triple crosses, where characters change allegiances every few chapters, where all the players have their own motives, and the reader is left breathless, wondering what in the hell could possibly happen next, then definitely pick up KJ Charles’ The Henchmen of Zenda.
202 reviews17 followers
September 11, 2023
once again, KJC graces us with a book that is too iconic for coherent thought. please see attached some scattered remarks:

-this book contains the phrase "good for her" in the meme-appropriate (that is, horiffically violent) context. my love and respect for KJC know no bounds.

-have not read the canon for this gay fanfic, though i have been informed (to my ceaseless delight) that there exists a very loose made-for-TV adaptation starring William Shatner called Prisoner of Zenda, Inc.

-while i will admit that the plot is at times a tad too convoluted and simultanously kinda dull (must we spend so much time guarding people and concocting elaborate schemes??), the swordfighting truly is the pinnacle of homoeroticism. there is a scene in which the narrator has a moonlit duel w his co-conspirator/love interest/fellow bastard and describes it as better than fucking *after* they have fucked. 10/10 no notes

-i love morally grey stabby bastards who cause chaos for the hell of it but maintain a soft spot in their hearts (and their undying loyalty) for their chosen families!! i think that's a very neat protagonist archetype that should be written more often!

-incredibly funny and snarky narrator. truly can't recall the last time i smirked so much while reading a KJC and she is *always* funny as hell. some choice remarks by our very own henchie:

"I am, as I write, alive, well, and irritated."

"the fuck that dare not speak its name"

"Some thirty years before our story starts, Ruritania's King Rudolf IV married his first cousin, who made up in red hair and blue eyes what she lacked in stamina, brains, or chin. She gave him a sickly brat of a son, also Rudolf (every second person in this damned tale is called Rudolf, for which I can only apologize), and promptly expired, her duty done."

"Freedom from cricket was one of the many reasons I was glad to be an exile. I prayed it would not be inflicted on me, as I would be forced to respond with violence."

"He sighed. 'Thank you for listening to me. I am a fool to let it bother me.'
'You are, rather. Still, at least you stabbed him.'
'Yes, there's that,' he agreed, cheering up."

"He gave me an absurd grin compounded of bravado, amusement, and a hint of 'dog wondering if the master likes large rats after all.'"

"'And then, well, the world is your oyster. You're free.'
'Some might say I've disgraced my name, abandoned my family, and exiled myself from my native land.'
'That's what I mean,' I said."

AND YET!! he is very soft for both Rupert and his bestie Toni!! speaking of

-Antoinette de Mauban if you read this i'm free on Thursday night and would like to hang out. please respond to this and then hang out with me on Thursday night when i'm free. (would not have minded Toni/Flavia, though!! missed opportunity if there ever was one lol.) i do love the way Charles wrote Toni as the abused and controlled mistress fighting her way back to her freedom. many a serious feel was felt even amid the gay swashbuckling.

-the absolutely whack cameos in that last chapter....KJC lives to keep us on our toes!!!!
Profile Image for Alissa.
629 reviews89 followers
December 8, 2018
“How many lands have you seen, Detchard? How many adventures have you had? You live for danger.”

“I live by danger. That is quite different.”

“You love it, and you know it. I want action. Intrigue. I want . . .” He turned in the saddle, arms wide, indicating the world around us. “I want all of it. I want to live as though every day is my last; I want to fight for foolish causes and gamble everything on the turn of a card. I want never to set a guard on my speech or my thoughts. I want to take all the pleasure there is to take, and reach for more. I want to drown in bright colours and dance on the edge of clifftops. Of course I seized the chance to overthrow a king. Who would miss that opportunity?”
Profile Image for Ellie.
827 reviews173 followers
May 9, 2018
This is a wonderful adventure romance in the veins of Dumas's The Three Musketeers but queer. It's fun and full of court intrigue and treason and sword fighting and an engaging romance between an older experienced gay man and a charming younger bi man

This story is a wild ride from the start. It's told form Jasper's POV, a jaded and disillusioned henchman who is loyal to his friends and the people he cares about. He is comfortable with who he is, absolutely unashamed and unrepentant about his life choices.

Rupert is dashing, vibrant, full of life and dreaming of having all the adventures. I loved how his bisexuality was very much present in the story and it was not an issue for anyone. He was a flamboyant flirt, yet he lacked experience with men and was willing to learn everything from Jasper.

I won't be going into details about the mystery plot of the story in order to avoid spoilers. All I can say it was very engaging and full of twists and turns and just when I thought I had an idea where things would go, the author took them in a completely different direction.

I find the theme of kindness and loyalty a recurring idea in KJ Charles's books and it had a central place here too. Jasper and Rupert are mercenaries yet they both value kindness and try not to do excessive harm, they don't enjoy violence for its own sake, but view it as a means to an end. They are both happy and comfortable with the lifestyle they have chosen for themselves (another common theme in KJ's books - the free to choose and shape your own life regardless of family obligations and other people's expectations of you).

And the story ends with the most perfect epilogue - love comes in various forms and the only thing that matter is for everyone involved to feel happy and satisfied, then all can be right in their own little world, and to some extend in the larger world too.
Profile Image for Georgie-who-is-Sarah-Drew.
1,135 reviews127 followers
September 21, 2018
3.5 stars
I love The Prisoner of Zenda, I love K.J. Charles's writing; a twisted mirror version of the original should have been a 5-star read. So why wasn't it?

I think it's a case of clashing strengths. KJC is brilliant at allusive dialogue, at strong characters whose changing motivations draw us in, at HEA romantic relationships. Anthony Hope's PoZ is about heroism, action, black and white characterisations. KJC does a good job of imitating his style, which is deliberate, description-heavy, and functional rather than flowery; in the original PoZ, the style works well to set off the plot, which is full of action.

In the process, though, her own style feels subordinated. "The Henchmen of Zenda" lacks the sense of pace that PoZ and KJC's other writings both have. Detchard and his companions spend most of the book immured at Zenda, explaining the plot to each other. Detchard realises at one point that he is a quadruple agent - which gives some indication of the complexity of the plans and counter-plans. I hesitate to call it dry, but...

It's not completely boring: there's a lot of pleasure in recognising subverted elements of PoZ. And the page lit up any time Hentzau and Detchard were together (KJC does morally ambiguous characters really really well), though those passages were few and far between. Hentzau doesn't come in until about 16/17% of the way through. They are entertaining MCs, to be sure, but since they don't really change throughout the book, and their relationship is a totally angst-free zone, there's surprisingly little emotional involvement required from the reader.

I'm glad I read this, I expect I'll re-read it, but it's slightly less than the sum of its parts. Pity.
Profile Image for Grace.
2,794 reviews131 followers
July 3, 2022
Thank you so much to Seven Eleven Elf for the gift!!
4.5 rounded down

As expected/hoped, this was such good fun! You can tell the author really enjoyed herself while writing, and the way the original Victorian pulp fiction inspiration, The Prisoner of Zenda, was queered and subverted here was super interesting! It can definitely be read as a stand-alone, but I'd highly suggest reading the original first, as it makes for a more interesting read to see the ways Charles twists the original story. The plot is twisty and delightful, and I quite enjoyed the characters and voices here, though as anticipated, the romance was definitely more muted, and I'd really barely classify it as one, which I do think the author was pretty up front about. Personally, I do like a bit more swoon, but what we got fit well into the story.
Profile Image for M'rella.
1,325 reviews179 followers
May 29, 2018
This was absolutely brilliant!

An excellent behind-the-scenes explanation of the events that took place in The Prisoner of Zenda. More intrigue, more deceit and backstabbing; spies and double-triple-quadruple agents galore! In other words, a truly delightful read! I hope there is more to come :) (Please, KJC! PLEASE! I am not above begging!)

That said, I strongly suggest to not to skip the original!

... you won't regret it! :D The books complete each other perfectly!

*happy sigh*
Profile Image for Caz.
2,761 reviews1,033 followers
October 19, 2018
I've given this a C+ for narration and an A- for content at AudioGals.

A retelling of Anthony Hope’s 1894 classic adventure story The Prisoner of Zenda from a different point of view, K.J. Charles’ The Henchmen of Zenda introduces us to Jasper Detchard, a disgraced and debauched former army officer who unrepentantly fights and fucks his way around Europe, making his living as soldier of fortune. He’s approached by Michael Elphberg, Duke of Strelsau (from the small European kingdom of Ruritania) to join his trusted bodyguard – known as “the six” – and take part in the overthrow of Michael’s half-brother, the country’s new king, Rudolf V.

The original novel is narrated by one Rudolf Rassendyll, an English gentleman who bears an uncanny resemblance to King Rudolf, and who is holidaying in Ruritania when he is approached by the king’s closest advisers and asked to impersonate the monarch during his upcoming coronation because he’s falling down drunk and unlikely to be sober in time to attend. When Michael’s men kidnap the king, things get even more complicated; Rassendyll falls in love with the king’s betrothed, the Princess Flavia, and all ends well after Rassendyll rescues the king and then honourably bows out, leaving Flavia to do her duty to king and country. It’s a “Boy’s Own” swashbuckling adventure, a piece of Victorian pulp fiction complete with all the clichés and conventions demanded by the genre; an altruistic, honourable hero, a damsel in distress and a black-hearted villain… or two. K.J. Charles does a superb job of turning these conventions on their heads, inside out and backwards to create a story that immediately takes on a life of its own separate from the source material, and of turning the characters into fully-rounded individuals rather than the rather two-dimensional cyphers they are in Hope’s tale.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals .
Profile Image for Achim.
1,137 reviews69 followers
February 13, 2020
There are times I really enjoy adventures with scheming, danger, politics and a certain trembling uncertainty, even better if it's pseudo-historical and taking place at simpler times like the late 19th century and if it's based on a story I know but tells that story from the perspective of another person, making one of the villains of the original story the hero and shed a new light on everything – throw it at me … doesn't matter if the romance part is getting into the backseat as long as it is there.

So everything's fine with The Henchmen of Zenda? Yes and no. Yes, there is a network of intrigues and no one gets out untainted but to draw me into the story, engage me emotionally I need the perspective of someone who either suffers directly from those machinations or of someone who's part of the scheming. There has to be danger, conflict and uncertainty – unfortunately Jasper can't deliver in this case. We know from the start that he's getting out of the whole mess and lives to tell, we early know that he doesn't really care about this game of throne and is there for different reasons but even that is followed in a pragmatic, no-nonsense kind of way and because he's the only narrator we see the machinations unfold somehow from the sideline.

The romance is naturally not the driving force of this story where you don't know the real agenda of your fellow players. So Jasper and Rupert … let's say it takes a lot of time until Jasper follows the temptation and in truly Victorian style even an english guy doesn't talk about affection but it's nice to watch those two banter and their kind of happy ending is refreshing and definitely something else, something surely no one else would consider a HEA but it's exactly right for them.

So what's left? Interesting characters, an enjoyable new and more plausible view on The Prisoner of Zenda and a beautiful cover but could have been easily so much more.
Profile Image for WhatAStrangeDuck.
476 reviews34 followers
May 19, 2018
First things first - this is not strictly speaking a retelling of The Prisoner of Zenda but the flip side of the coin. If you have read "Prisoner" you may remember that there are a great many things that the MC does not talk about in his book (because he wasn't there to tell the tale AND/OR because he is a lying liar which is the premise that KJ Charles goes with). So for once I absolutely recommend reading the "original" or rather the foil this story is based on. "Prisoner" is a mostly very entertaining book and you can get it for free.

I read those two books almost back to back and I simply can't tell if you get the same amount of enjoyment out of "Henchmen" if you don't. Maybe you do because, hey, it's KJ Charles and she's awesome.

In a nutshell - I enjoyed the heck out of this book. If you go in expecting a sweet romance, you will be sorely disappointed but what I really love about Ms. Charles' writing is the way she describes people falling in love despite the fact that they really, really think they should know better. But they don't and the romance part is all the better for it.

Also, the wit is dry as tinder and if you haven't fallen in love with the intrepid Rupert of Hentzau in "Prisoner", you will now - or you should save a couple bucks and don't buy the book. If you can't deal with people whose morals are more flexible than a Cirque du Soleil contortionist - don't buy the book. All I can say is that I enjoyed the heck out of it. Buckles were swashed! Or is it swashes were buckled?


Highly recommended!
Profile Image for ⚣Michaelle⚣.
3,672 reviews205 followers
January 23, 2019
4 Stars

For some reason I was thinking I had read The Prisoner of Zenda back in High School. Turns out I did not. And as such I think I was missing all of the innuendo and references - which would have made this a richer experience.

Not that reading it seems to have been necessary as this book was complete and extremely enjoyable on it's own...especially the audiobook! Antony Ferguson did an exceptional job with the narration. (He's credited as narrating a book on the Periodic Table and I'm excited to listen to that now.)

So, I guess I now have to put the original on the TBR shelf and then re-read this. No hardship!
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,179 reviews433 followers
December 14, 2019

When KJ Charles is on, she’s on. This book is all the things: fun, ridiculous, hilarious, swashbuckling, hot, FUN. The high pulp style suits her so well because she can pack the book full of joy and all the sneering and sniding she likes to write works because it’s comic and joyful.

On top of that: she upends the classic Prisoner of Zenda and I love stories that do that. It never hurts to remember who writes the official accounts and what likely happened instead, even when it’s pulp fiction.

One of my favorites all year.

Profile Image for Nerea.
672 reviews32 followers
September 22, 2018
I expected to LOVE this, because I really enjoy KJ Charles stories!! But this one is a No for me... maybe is the style of the narrative, but all those explanations, descriptions, and not a clear plot made me BORED :(
Profile Image for Aldi.
1,149 reviews84 followers
May 16, 2018
This was so much fun it should frankly be illegal. Having read the original for the first time just a few days ago, I can confirm that Henchmen can absolutely be read as a standalone; however, I do highly recommend reading both, as the ways in which they complement, contradict, parodise and juxtapose each other is an absolute delight that really heightened the experience for me.

I'm a sucker for a good swashbuckling yarn, the more ridiculous the better, so I already enjoyed The Prisoner of Zenda a great deal in its own right, despite the problematic and/or downright offensive bits one can expect from a heroic adventure tale written by a dude in 1895 (i.e. the manly hero is manly and heroic, the villains are black-hearted and villainous, the schemes are dastardly and the women are swooning, hand-wringing, fluttering non-entities *yawn*). It was an unparalleled treat, then, to read a new take on that same story - a take that enhanced all the fun bits of the original (royal brothers fighting for a crown! doppelgängers! abduction, mystery, impersonation, assassination and treason plots! beautiful and courageous princesses! beautiful dastardly charming villains! swashing! buckling! so much swashing and buckling!) but also, crucially, subverted the problematic bits, added depth of character to every player, infused a healthy portion of self-irony, and generally turned a somewhat bland, ridiculous but entertaining adventure tale into a lovely, charming, layered, diverse and well-rounded... ridiculous but entertaining adventure tale. If nothing else, the progression of double agents turning triple, turning quadruple agents and trying to keep track of where they're at and who they're working for at any given moment, whilst making tongue-in-cheek notes of the ridiculousness of their position towards the slightly lowered fourth wall is endlessly amusing.


I think anyone who's done a decent amount of reading, and definitely anyone who writes, is aware of the rare but highly diverting phenomenon where a character intended as a minor side player or villain will come bursting in the door and sweep everyone (most notably the author themselves) off their feet, wreak havoc with the plot and cheerfully steal the show in every single scene they're in (and they'll make sure they're in EVERY scene). It was hilariously obvious that that's what happened to Anthony Hope with Rupert of Hentzau, a villain of the original piece - not even the main villain, just a brash, dashing boy who rode in halfway through the story, reckless and utterly unencumbered by morals, too young, too dismissive of conventions, too pretty and charming and definitely too irresistible for his own good, who cheerfully appropriated the second half of the novel as a stage for the endlessly amusing Rupert Hentzau Show. There was no doubt in my mind as I read the original that Henchmen would lend a deeper polish to the already blinding dazzle of this intriguing character, and it did not disappoint in the least - Rupert as imagined by KJC has all of his original charm with a wealth of added layers that make him that much more lovely, especially for his flaws.

Add to that the narrator of this version, Jasper Detchard, who in the original is an intriguing character with a frustrating lack of screentime, and who is here brought to life in a most satisfactory fashion as a wonderfully dry, cautious, unsentimental, brilliantly sarcastic bastard and perfect counterpoint to Rupert's boundless exuberance, and you've got a compelling fire-and-ice pairing that is delightful in every way.

I must give a moment here to my very busy inner casting director (who is also a time traveller and can pluck actors out of whatever stage of their career is most convenient :p) and who is yelling at me that it is very necessary to the substance of this review to mention that she cast Julian Sands and Rupert Graves as these characters for, well, reasons:



ANYWAY. While these two and their unlikely, unapologetic, unconventional, and refreshingly unsentimental romance thoroughly charmed me (can I also say how nice it is to see a pairing in this genre for whom monogamous bliss is not the endgame and who are perfectly happy to be gallivanting off into the wildly adventurous open-relationship sunset together, and also HOLY FUCK THE SEX WAS HOT), I think for me the greatest satisfaction to be found in this remix was the way that Henchmen gave agency to the female characters of the story, in particular Antoinette, my darling badass demimonde assassin queen.


I loved this take on Antoinette so much. From a wailing, powerless, jealousy-ridden, cardboard mistress, Henchmen takes Antoinette to a fleshed-out, flawed, strong and vulnerable character with real motivations, a real history, and real backbone, and that was so rewarding to read. I adored her friendship with Jasper and the wealth of history between them (I do love true loyalty amongst fellow scoundrels a great deal, and they delivered in spades on that), I hated the position she was put in, and of all the characters, I was probably rooting for her the hardest.

I could wish that the same amount of detailed character redemption could have been lavished on Princess Flavia or, you know, that she and Antoinette could have hooked up *weeps buckets for missed opportunities* but I get why Flavia had to be mostly off-screen, and I'm glad that she at least got to direct the stage from there and win the kingdom and the (utterly useless prize of a total sham of a) king.


In short (hah hah), this was an utter joy. Now who do I approach and relentlessly bully about a screen adaptation? Because it absolutely needs to happen, my friends.
Profile Image for Helen Kord.
325 reviews37 followers
July 14, 2021
Read the review on my blog!

I think my favourite thing about The Henchmen of Zenda is the unabashed fun KJ is having with rewriting the original book, calling it out on its bullshit, while still showing her love and appreciation for it. This book is glorious. It’s a joyful romp, poking fun at the conventions of the genre, completely unashamed. I couldn’t stop grinning while reading, every new page exciting.

I’ve read Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda in preparation for this book and I’m so, so glad I did, because now I can appreciate KJ’s version even more. The beauty of her version is that it takes the marginalized, left out of mainstream literature on purpose, and writes them back in, all while giving them back agency in their own stories. They are active agents in their own narration, fighting for their own future. KJ’s version is built upon friendship, trust, and belief in your allies.

The narration was superb. Jesper Detchard, with his snide remarks towards the world, Rupert, and Rassendyll in particular, stole my heart. While I tend to prefer kind-hearted heroes, Jesper, with his sarcasm, pragmatism and deeply hidden caring heart, was a balm on frayed nerves. Combined with the ever-charming and delightful Rupert of Hentzau and the strong-willed Antonia, the main cast of this book made my heart sing. I feel like stories of deep friendship and trust in the face of impossibilities is what we need now. These three are exactly the kind of protagonists I need now- they are objectively bad people, but they care so, so much. And while the romance between Jesper and Rupert isn’t exactly a classic romance, it’s a relationship that works perfectly for them.

I can’t exactly put into words why this book hit me in the heart so hard. It could be the unabashed “no, we’ve always existed, you can’t erase us anymore”. It could be the dry humor and swearing of KJ’s that I love so much. It could be the incredible ending. It’s probably all of it combined.
Profile Image for Kaa.
564 reviews50 followers
February 26, 2019
1. Read the original book before picking this one up! It's short and available free online, and I think it adds a lot to the experience of this story. The narrator of this book often responds directly to things written in the other book, and although the quote/context is provided, I think it helps to know the whole story.

2. Not a traditional romance, but it totally worked for me. I love Jasper and Rupert individually and together, and the way their story plays out is, in my opinion, completely perfect for them. I really hate when authors feel as though they have to shoehorn characters into the standard type of HEA, and I'm glad KJ Charles didn't try to do that with these wonderful but decidedly unconventional heroes. (Er... antiheroes. Sort of. Except he's totally doing it for the baby.)

3. Such an entertaining story! The original is fast-paced, but the plots and counterplots and twists in this one are ridiculous. I was very pleased with the way the author subverted many of the elements in the original. So much fun - and I have to admit, it felt a little bit like taking revenge on the narrator in the first book for some of the things that I really didn't enjoy about him.

4. Although they are VERY different books in many ways, Henchman of Zenda made me think immediately of Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Swordspoint was one of the first m/m books I ever read, and it remains one of my favorites. I loved both of these books for being not-exactly-romance with morally dubious heroes and lots of drama and plotting ().
Profile Image for Elin.
Author 19 books188 followers
May 15, 2018
As ever, excellent

I've long been a fan of Zenda, both the knowledge and the many film versions (FYI Douglas Fairbanks is by FAR the best film Rupert and you won't convince me otherwise) but I have to say that this is the one I've enjoyed most. For a start cynical cool-as-a-cucumber Detchard is exactly the type of hero I love, and that he appears to be comfortably a romantic was a nice surprise. So this isn't really your usual All For Love romance. It's an adventure with a bunch of characters with whom you couldn't trust your wallet but you could trust them with your life, as long as you weren't causing them any inconvenience. Such FUN!! and nice to spit a few other favourite classic adventure heroes in disguise.
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