Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Ruritania Trilogy #2

The Prisoner of Zenda

Rate this book
Rudolph Rassendyll's life is interrupted by his unexpected and personal involvement in the affairs of Ruritania whilst travelling through the town of Zenda. He is shortly on the way to Streslau, the capital, where he finds himself engaged in plans to rescue the imprisoned king.

199 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1894

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Anthony Hope

703 books232 followers
Prolific English novelist and playwright Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins especially composed adventure. People remember him best only for book The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and its sequel book Rupert of Hentzau (1898). These works, "minor classics" of English literature, set in the contemporaneous fictional country of Ruritania, spawned the genre, known as Ruritanian romance. Zenda inspired many adaptations, most notably the Hollywood movie of 1937 of the same name.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
6,081 (28%)
4 stars
7,657 (36%)
3 stars
5,696 (26%)
2 stars
1,295 (6%)
1 star
426 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,262 reviews
Profile Image for Baba.
3,620 reviews991 followers
November 21, 2021
2021 read: Red headed, large nosed Rudolph Rassendyll (great name) has any uncanny resemblance to the adult heir to the Ruritanian throne, and by a quirk of fate is forced/agrees to impersonate him at his coronation after a failed coup! However, twists and turns result in Rudolph having to impersonate the King for a longer period of time and also lead the rescue of the Prisoner of Zenda which will release him from his predicament and foil the coup plot! The problem is that the coup attempt is ongoing, the Prisoner of Zenda is the King (not a spoiler, as this is made clear very early on), and the King's betrothed Princess begins to fall for Rudolph!

Adventure ahoy! That's right this is a good old fashioned almost fairy-tale-esque adventure, but without the fantasy element This being a swashbuckling adventure there's swords, moats, castles and skulduggery aplenty, and I loved every Goddamn minute of reading this purely escapist read that threw me back to watching Errol Flynn movies made in the golden Hollywood Years and aired repeatedly in the 1970s and 1980s in the UK. ! 8 out of 12 :)
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
469 reviews3,257 followers
May 28, 2021
Rudolf Rassendyll an Englishman, takes a vacation to Ruritania don't look on a map to find it, you won't. Set in the 1890's , a new king, is to be crowned, in this remote Eastern European nation. Rudolf is curious to see his distant cousin and look- alike, Rudolf the Fifth ( a century old family affair... a scandal...nothing else will be said...
kept very quiet ... the cause of this embarrassing connection). The traveler decides unwisely to explore an interesting Ruritanian forest on foot, he's in no hurry, has all the time in the world, not a surprise getting sleepy and lies down , falls quickly into a deep slumber, the dreams men have aren't always pleasant. Can you imagine the King while hunting with a royal entourage, discovers the visitor, with that face...his own ...the amused monarch has a big laugh, so do the others and makes plans to trick his older , half brother by a morganatic marriage ( unequal social rank, no titles inherited by the "inferior") Black Michael, a nickname which describes his character perfectly. This man hates King Rudolf, believing , he deserves the throne, not the alcoholic, lazy brother. Bringing the unknown relative to his nearby hunting lodge, his majesty, gives him what else, wine, numerous toasts follow, to this and that, anything will do and before long, slips under the table (a drugged wine bottle from Michael also, seems a little redundant). The commoner is more prudent, staying in his chair miraculously, somehow. His ambitious brother immediately kidnaps the unconscious King, secretly... when the monarch was left alone, assisted greatly by Rupert , his loyal henchman he thinks...wrongly. Rudolf becomes the Prisoner of Zenda, a impregnable castle fortress, no way to escape either. There is but a little problem, tomorrow the coronation! Everyone will be there, no king no kingdom he must be present...No worry, Mr.Rassendyll can impersonate his royal cousin, his close supporters hope, it's not going to be easy, fooling Michael, Flavia, the King's future bride and the rest, until the monarch is rescued. A magnificent performance... by the commoner could be his final one . In the meantime the Englishman, begins to love Princess Flavia and she, him. A Problem which is very much not resolvable but is love the only thing , is there something more important...Such as duty to your adoring people. Yet Flavia is very beautiful and charming woman...
Profile Image for Amit Mishra.
234 reviews671 followers
June 27, 2019
It follows the swashbuckling adventures of Rudolf Rassendyll, an Englishman who bears a striking resemblance to the king of Ruritania.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,566 reviews1,896 followers
April 5, 2023
Getting myself a library card for the first time in years has enabled me to binge on lightweight adventures it seems. I don't remember seeing one of the several film versions of this, though that's not saying much, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and all that. Lying in bed last night, reading the last few pages of this book it seemed so clearly related to A Princess of Mars and at least two other books I've munched down recently. That connection this morning, even after coffee, seems cloudy and obscure which is perhaps a sign that this review needs a beer before it can reach a satisfactory conclusion.

But anyway, in case you have never heard of this story before, it was written towards the end of the nineteenth century, the author was a practising barrister (not to be confused with a barista) which is to say a lawyer with the right of audience before the courts anyway he was getting bored, tried to stand for Parliament but not enough people voted for him, so he tried again to write a novel, this time achieving a breakthrough success with this one. As you might expect from the author's background the story he wrote has nothing to do with the law nor with conventional politics.

The story concerns a wealthy young Englishman called Rudolf whose appearance is indistinguishable from that of another young man called Rudolf who just so happens to be the heir to the kingdom of Ruritania and who is due to be crowned king. Naturally Prince Rudolf has a wicked younger brother called Black Michael (on account of his wicked heart), both men desire to marry their cousin, the beautiful princess Flavia. Michael has at least one devilish and dastardly plot in hand to prevent the coronation of Prince Rudolf , enter stage right the man who is not Prince Rudolf, who decides to go on holiday to Ruritania and ends up having a swashbuckling adventure thrown in with the cost of his train fare.

In common with the above mentioned Mars book, but also The Lost World, Journey to the Centre of the Earth or King Solomon's Mines we can observe that adventure doesn't happen here it has to happen out 'there', 'here' life is regular, organised, it has the grind of daily obligations, everything conspires to make you yawn, job, marriage, even breakfast - by contrast you might think of Sherlock Holmes which has a contrary ideological basis - in those stories adventure happens everywhere because of the universal tendency of the human heart to comitt criminal acts. In time the adventure novel will develop and adventures will happen 'here' to, those stories play with the idea that 'here' is safe and show instead that under the calm, rational surface of everyday life are teeming conspiracies and black hearted deeds. At this stage however the known world is safe and therefore boring, the author needs to invent a fantastical and exciting place where adventure can happen, if not Mars, or a south-American plateau, or under the earth's surface but in this case Ruritania, a German speaking kingdom that you can reach by train from Dresden.

There buckles will be swashed, although we are in the age of firearms, our heroes and the villains prefer to use swords and cudgels presumably because they are more chivalric. And obviously it is all about chivalry, such a story aspires to a simpler time when men were real men, women were real women, and upon autopsy black hearted villains were found literally to have black hearts.

Naturally if one thinks back to the actual literature of the age of questing knights one recalls that their heroes could be conflicted, adulterous, have curious religious needs, while in the modern day chivalric story, all of that is stripped away until all you have is a pre-Raphaelite image of a pretty lad with a sword and a seductive loose haired model working for 4d the hour. The sense of violence being intrinsically validating is far stronger in the Burroughs, here the chivalry and Romantic self denial is far stronger, perhaps I recalled from The Chrysanthemum and the sword how Meiji era Japan was much impressed by the medievalism of late Victorian Europe and so promoted a Japanese version of it back home so the army officer carried a sword, he was not to be the rational master of logistics and tactics learnt from the study of contemporary warfare, no, he was to he infused with the pure warrior spirit of an earlier age. Culturally we might feel this ends in the film Star Wars as much as in Hiroshima.

Hope doesn't go so far, if you will excuse a pun cruelly perpetrated on a man's name. Still an Errol Flynn adventure requires to be satisfying, to have coherent plotting and ideally, entertaining characters, perhaps even the clatter of rapier dialogue. Prisoner of Zenda is a bit too mild I'd say, it's not really melodramatic (no moustaches are twirled!), nor comic opera enough for those wistfully recalling The Merry Widow, I would say it's a bit comic book, but I understand that comic books themselves are fairly sophisticated these days. It's all adventure and relies purely on mistaken identity and suspension of disbelief, so when the good guys make an attempt to free the prisoner of Zenda from the bad guys they abort the attempt - the bad guys know that a rescue was attempted because one of their goons gets murdered, however they don't move the prisoner , nor do much to strengthen the defences. If one was re-writing the book with serious intent you would develop the plot in all kinds of directions - will 'friendly' neighbouring countries march in with their armies to 'restore order', might Black Michael stage a coup or does Princess Flavia have enough support among junior officers to stage a counter coup, what about the union of rail workers who will they support, if they go on strike can they bring the country to a halt? Hope ignores this in favour of a simple vision - political skulduggery is not about controlling committee appointments and patronage, it is about a man with a sword facing down assassins with a coffee table and moonlit swimming in a castle moat. It seems almost a pity to say that it could be more fun.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,639 followers
August 1, 2017
Rereading this for the 400th time in prep for writing my own version for Riptide's Queered Classics series. This time, I read it from the perspective that the narrator is a lying SOB. It's amazing how well it lends itself to that.

Brilliant book though, with flashes of utter genius in the writing, along with all the expected flaws of Victorian pulp.

Thus he vanished--reckless and wary, graceful and graceless, handsome, debonair, vile, and unconquered.

Profile Image for Sanjay Gautam.
233 reviews444 followers
December 7, 2016
It was not an interesting read, though it seemed to be at first. I started with some expectations but I soon realized I am going to be bored. Yet I kept reading; and did not stop till I finished the novel. Now, my reactions about the book are not all positive. The premise of the book, as seemed to me, was unrealistic but plausible. But it was not this that upset me - it was the shallow characterization done by the author.

The characters were shallow, and uninspiring. Anthony Hope never tried to give any depth to the characters in the book, and there were no great characters that I could relate to. But these problems came to my notice when I was already half-way through the book. So I decided to finish the book and see what happens in the end. My endeavor remained unrewarded.

It was the constant tension between the hero and the antagonist in the story, that kept me moving forward; and is the only reason I am giving this book two stars.

Profile Image for Teal.
608 reviews200 followers
November 2, 2022
I'm staying with 4 stars, for old times' sake. This Victorian-era novel delighted me as a child, back before the invention of the Young Adult genre, when I read anything I could get my hands on.

It had been years since I last re-read it, so it held some surprises for me this time around. There's a zest and verve to the writing that's perfect for a swashbuckling adventure novel. Our hero, Rudolf Rassendyl, is more of a rogue than I remembered — sexual adventures are even hinted at. *gasp* Pass me the smelling salts!

It's difficult to imagine anyone coming to this book as an adult, today, and being willing to cut it much slack. It's very much a product of its time — but of course, it's a rare book that isn't. Rudolph, as a handsome, wealthy young British aristocrat, without a title but with plenty of means to indulge his whims, is oblivious white male privilege personified. Yes, a true Victorian hero — with all the self-satisfaction that implies. His love for the Princess Flavia is insta, and there's plenty of noble forbearance, manly bonding through barely repressed emotions, and stiff-upper-lipping.

And then there's Rupert of Hentzau. He starts out as a minor villain in the story, appearing on page for the first time only at the halfway mark, but then proceeds to steal the author's attention and reduce the main villain to pretty much an afterthought in the reader's mind.

He steals Rudolph's attention as well. Rudolph simply cannot help admiring Rupert's handsomeness, his youthful figure, his thick curly hair, his insolent smile, his dauntless courage, his free spirit, his physical grace, his irrepressible humor in the face of danger. Princess Flavia who?

It's such an amusing case of an author being seduced by his own creation. Unsurprisingly, the sequel to this book is — wait for it — Rupert of Hentzau.

Such fun. Seriously flawed from the modern standpoint, but I sure was lucky to have found this book when I was a kid.
Profile Image for Sarah Sammis.
7,319 reviews219 followers
November 28, 2007
The Prisoner of Zenda is one of those books I've been meaning to read for about twenty years. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I finally took the time to read this classic adventure written by Anthony Hope in 1894.

The Prisoner of Zenda brings the fairy tale of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper (1888) and Pudd'nhead Wilson (1893-4) into the adventure genre for adults. Anthony Hope's story of a king kidnapped on the eve of his coronation and his English cousin who takes his place is derring-do at its best.

Sure the story has been done over and over again but that's because the story is so entertaining. It was written at at time before two world wars forever altered the map of Europe. Ruritania exists in a time when it was possible to still imagine tiny kingdoms and principalities tucked among the better known countries. Think of Ruritania existing along side the duchy of Luxembourg and the principality of Monaco.

The hero and narrator of Zenda is twenty-nine year Rudolf Rassendyll who shares a name and certain physical features with soon to be crowned Rudolph IV of Ruritania. Unfortunately for all those involved, Rudolph IV is an idiot and easily falls prey to a plot to take the crown away from him and possibly end his life. To keep things in check while the king can be found and rescued, Rudolf Rassendyll must play the king.

Throughout the narrative Rassendyll gives amusing commentary on politics and the responsibilities of leadership. All the while he is putting himself in harms way both in his portrayal of the king and in trying to rescue Rudolf IV.

I am releasing the copy I read soon through BookCrossing as it came to me from another member. I will however be keeping my eyes out for a nice hardback edition for my personal collection.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
February 7, 2019
Not as good as the Flashman version, but essential background nonetheless.

Working through my elementary Persian grammar, I notice that the Persian word for "prison" is زندان, "zendan". Looking around, I find other people who have pointed this out (e.g. here) but so far I haven't come across anyone who knows if it's more than a coincidence.
Profile Image for Werner.
Author 3 books601 followers
September 8, 2018
On a "raw and damp" morning in the England of 1733, according to the author's premise, a British nobleman named James Rassendyll fought a duel with a visiting prince of the House of Elphberg, the royal family of the (fictional) Central European country of Ruritania. Severely wounded, the prince returned home, where he recovered and subsequently ascended the throne, married and continued the royal line. James contracted a severe respiratory illness on the occasion and died of it (this was the pre-antibiotic era) six months later, leaving his beautiful widow seven months pregnant with her first son. When born, the boy was legally presumed to be her husband's child and succeeded to the earldom. BUT, he proved to have the distinctive Elphberg long, sharp, straight nose, dark red hair and blue eyes, features not typical of the previous Rassendylls. Even in an age before DNA testing and real knowledge of genetics, this provoked conjecture. (Of course, in the 18th century, despite both lip service to Christian morals and a traditional sexual double standard, the English aristocracy tended to politely overlook rampant marital infidelity by both husbands and wives, as long as neither spouse was tactless enough to mention it in public.)

Elphberg features continued to crop out in the subsequent generations of Rassendylls, who privately knew (though they didn't broadcast the fact) that they were essentially an out-of-wedlock branch of the Elphbergs. In the author's present, the Elphberg look is particularly marked in younger son Rudolf. He's a former Army officer, now unemployed and (having the late Victorian equivalent of a trust fund) not at all interested in being employed. His military training has made him very competent with a sword and a pistol, and a good rider; he also happened to be educated in a German university, so is German-speaking. (Although the rupture of World War I tended to subsequently obscure this, in real life England and Germany had a lot of that kind of cultural contact in the pre-war generations, and even a fair amount of intermarriage in the aristocratic families; so Rudolf's college experience isn't at all unrealistic.) The Ruritanian king having died recently, Rudolf decides on a whim to attend the coronation of the new king, his namesake Prince Rudolf. When the two meet, they discover that they're physically almost exact doubles. That resemblance is going to come in very handy, because trouble is brewing in Ruritania. King Rudolf's not-exactly-loving younger half-brother Duke Michael would prefer to be king himself; and neither filial affection nor respect for human life are very high on his list of values.

Rudolf Rassendyll is a first-person narrator, and it took me a while to warm up to him. He came across to me initially as too flippant, and exuding a smug attitude of entitlement that I consider one of the worst consequences of hereditary aristocracy. But his tone gets more serious before long; and this proved to be at once a very stirring tale of intrigue, violence, plotting and counter-plotting, with a lot of suspense and action in the face of very real challenges and jeopardies, and a serious exploration of challenging questions of right and wrong, the meaning and value of honor and integrity, of choices between self-service and self-sacrifice. The (clean) romantic component of the story is flawed by an "insta-love" factor which, on examination, isn't too credible; but it still lends a very real, compelling emotional power to the tale. Hope doesn't examine the political and socio-economic realities of the class-conscious, largely elitist and exploitative social order in which his characters move (an order destined to be swept away in about 20 years in the convulsions of the Great War), and that's a detrimental blind spot. But he also evokes a mind-set of principle, honor and integrity which the war would also largely sweep away --and which is much more missed by those who have the discernment to miss such things.

One final comment needs to be made. Another Goodreader, commenting on the book, complained of the lack of female characters, save for the "simpering princess" and a housekeeper whose role is minor. However, Princess Flavia never simpers here; she comes across as a strong-inside, intelligent and morally sensitive woman of patriotism and principle, who inspires real respect. And she's far from the only significant female character here: Antoinette de Mauban, Lady Burlesdon, and even the innkeeper's daughter all play important roles in the story, in their different ways, and they're all well-drawn, and even sympathetic characters (despite foibles), who come across as capable people, not caricatures of female ineptitude. Granted, in keeping with 19th-century gender attitudes, they aren't primarily fighters (though one might give some characters, and readers, a surprise in that regard). But this is far from being the kind of "guys only, no girls allowed!" book that some of the novels by Hope's contemporary, Robert Louis Stevenson, are.

Overall, this was a book I liked more than I expected to. I'd recommend it to all fans of Romantic classics, and especially of action-adventure fiction.
Profile Image for Clare.
1,460 reviews307 followers
November 30, 2011
What a great story, a brief but epic adventure. Perhaps some may be tempted to rate it lower because it is not the standard rose-coloured fairytale, but I don't think that is fair. The adventure is fun: a monarchy, a feud, a capture, a farce and a fight, but it is the heroic romance which makes it truly great.

Zenda shows the antithesis of Twilight's selfish, obsessive love. There's a paragraph in my Twilight review which is apt here:
"One of the most serious issues in Twilight is the glorification of obsessive love, an intensely emotional experience which is more important than life itself, yours or anyone’s... and marriage is presented as a commitment based on this intense feeling of desire, when a person is so essential to your happiness that you can’t live without them... Yet, in the real world, people do live, and what’s more, they really learn to love, sometimes giving up a love they might feel because it’s not right (for example, the person is married to someone else), or many times learning to love a person once feelings have faded, or rather, have deepened and matured..."
Zenda shows this second type of love, and it is beautiful. It is no soppy love story, but it is beautiful.

After finishing it - and yes, there were tears in my eyes - I had the following thoughts. There is something eternal about real love. Selfish love dies in the moment: once taken it is used up and gone. Real love transcends the moment to live forever, so even if it is not fulfilled here and now it is true and remains forever. And perhaps we can only know how well we love if we are willing - should the need arise - to give it up. Because this type of love has had to transform every selfish part in it.

There are some people that life asks, like this, to give everything. There are others who are asked to give everything by loving those alongside them with their defects and limitations and responsibilities. The first are not more tragic, perhaps they love even more. Both are heroic.

And there is a kind of heartache that actually helps you learn to love, for it expands the heart and pulls it out of itself. We shouldn't fear this kind of heartache, because it lets you discover something more beautiful than you've known before.

The last paragraphs in Zenda are beautiful, though perhaps not too well appreciated in our time. As noble as they are, they are still very human, and yet to see the human side of his struggle only makes it more beautiful, for it is more real.

www.GoodReadingGuide.com an online catalogue of recommended reading
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books752 followers
June 21, 2019
Whoa! This was so fun! It's the classic gothic novel--swashbuckling, impostor kings, traitors, madmen, beautiful women--but it's also witty and well paced. I think it held up well (despite a few obvious changes in sentiment over the intervening century and a half since it was written) and was a complete surprise to me how good it was.

I read this in preparation to read a retelling/spin off of this one recommended by a friend. I expected to be bored and glad to see the end of it, but I'll be honest, this was a great blend of romance and drama for me. I see why it was made into a movie so many times (and riffed off of many others). If the next book is just this but more modern and with a gay romance, I'll be extremely pleased.

Highly recommended, and it's on Librivox by a very talented narrator.
Profile Image for Melindam.
666 reviews294 followers
March 17, 2022
I cannot say I was deeply impressed, but reading a bit of swashbuckling now and then is fun.
Profile Image for Robert.
817 reviews44 followers
May 8, 2012
I was almost immediately reminded of The 39 Steps when I started this book. Both open with a 1st Person account of the protagonist lacking occupation and being idle just before the action begins and both betray unpleasant attitudes, too. Buchan's Hannay is much worse in this regard than Hope's Rudolf: Hannay is racist, sexist, Imperialist, arrogant and frankly unlikeable. Rudolf, however, makes one fairly mild sexist remark. There are differences, though: Hannay is bored of being idle whereas Rudolf would happily be idle for the rest of his life... None of this really matters beyond chapter one of either book, though. It's interesting to compare with Thomas Hardy. He was contemporary with both Hope and Buchan - but look at the views espoused about women, class, education and social mobility there! Perhaps the lesson is that 'frillers are not the place to look for advanced social attitudes. Because this is most definitely a Victorian 'friller!

Get through the first couple of chapters full of expository set-up and this fairly zips along and is far too short to get bogged down in. Adventure, romance, fictional European Kingdom, sword fights, tragedy...it's all here.

Great fun. I would gladly pick up the sequel...
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
5,116 reviews728 followers
October 29, 2016
I liked this book very much...just the right amount of cliff-hangers and action to keep you turning the pages. Sure this book has been copied many times in many different types of film and literature.
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,213 reviews104 followers
May 6, 2022
I originally read Anthony Hope's 1894 The Prisoner of Zenda in 2008 and mostly because of the novel's status as a classic and because an entire genre of literature, namely Ruritanian Fantasy/Romance is based on The Prisoner of Zenda and on Anthony Hope's made-up and imaginary Central European country of Ruritania.

But although I am sufficiently interested in The Prisoner of Zenda on an academic level, for both my 2008 read and my recent reread, I do have to admit that both thematically and with regard to Anthony Hope's writing style, I have not really found The Prisoner of Zenda all that enjoyable and definitely not really much engaging (and this even though the novel is often labeled and considered a tale of intruige and high adventure).

For one, I just cannot either enjoy or appreciate all the deus ex machinae and coincidences that present themselves in such a constant parade within the pages of The Pridoner of Zenda. They are tedious and uninteresting with their exaggerated overabundance, as no, I am really not much of a reading fan of mysteries and cloak and dagger type of tales at the best of times and not to mention that the entire scenario of Rufolf Rassendyll falling in love with the "forbidden" Princess Flavia and she with him is also much too fairy tale like for my tastes. And indeed, the one aspect of The Prisoner of Zenda which truly does interest me, why Rudolf Elphsberg (who is about to be crowned King Rudolf V of Ruritania) and Englishman Rudolf Rasdendyll look so very much alike (even though they are only rather distantly related), this is really never sufficiently dealt with in my humble opinion by Anthony Hope, leaving me both textually frustrated and immensely annoyed.

And for two, I am also not at all enamoured of Anthony Hope's writing, finding both it and by extension equally The Prisoner of Zenda as a novel, as an entity artificial, removed and at times even almost unreadable and the combination of Hope's thematics and his narrative style tediously cinematic and so much so that there really has been nothing in The Prisoner of Zenda that I have found a true reading pleasure (with the only reason why my rating is two stars and not one star being that I do realise and appreciate that Anthony Hope with The Prisoner of Zenda gave rise and name to an entire literary genre).
Profile Image for Gerry.
Author 42 books97 followers
July 3, 2021
Having been disappointed by a couple of recent reads, I thought I would revisit a book from many years ago, one that I thoroughly enjoyed at that time. And my re-read was not to disappoint for 'The Prisoner of Zenda' is just as fresh and thrilling now as it was then. And one can always reflect back to the 1937 and 1952 film versions when Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, C Aubrey Smith, Madeleine Carroll and others (1937) and Stewart Granger, James Mason, Deborah Kerr and the rest (1952) swashbuckled across our screens.

Obviously the story does not change from that which Anthony Hope Hawkins, for thus he was called, wrote the novel in 1894. It centres on the fictional country of Ruritania which our hero Rudolf Rassendyll decides to visit to see the coronation of the King. He had been languishing in London before deciding to go abroad for some adventure but he told family and friends that he was going to the Tyrol where he would travel around and record his experiences for posterity.

Once in Ruritania he discovers that he has an almost identical likeness to the King, who he meets by accident when strolling through the forest. Once this has happened the action begins thick and fast as the King becomes drunk on the eve of the coronation and is unfit to attend his coronation. Colonel Sapt, to preserve the monarchy under his King, persuades Rudolf to take his place for the coronation ceremony before returning to the lodge where the King was recovering so that their roles could be reversed - and nobody would be the wiser.

But Sapt, and his right-hand man Fritz, reckon without the intervention of Black Michael, the King's brother, who wishes the throne and the lovely Princess Flavia for himself. But once the coronation ruse is carried out successfully, Sapt and Rudolf find that the King has been captured by his rivals and imprisoned in the Castle of Zenda. So there is nothing to do but continue with the hoax until a satisfactory conclusion could be reached.

Unfortunately Flavia gets embroiled in the mix and Rudolf falls madly in love with her - and vice versa, which is a surprise considering that she previously felt that the King was not worth the effort. She found the new King, who she did not realise was an imposter, considerably changed and was charmed by him - a pity for her that it was in fact Rudolph.

The novel keeps the pace going all through with adventure and excitement mounting as the two parties vie for control of the country and for the hand of the fair Flavia. Rudolph in particular suffers for his love and for his conscience, as he wishes to do the right thing to get the King back on the throne. He is beaten up and attacked more than once but his cunning, aided by Colonel Sapt and his confederates, eventually get the better of Black Michael and his main co-conspirator Rupert of Hentzau, the latter who escapes and lives to fight another day.

Throughout the whole saga, the love affair of Rudolph and Flavia simmers and in a heart-rending ending, Rudolph restores the King to the throne and is obliged to forsake his love and return to London where he keeps his exploits to himself despite the efforts of his friends to discover where he has been and what he has been up to.

Meanwhile back in Ruritania, Flavia has to accept that it is her duty to support the (real) King and she remains loyal to her liege despite her undying love for the departed Rudolf.

The story is just as lively and thrilling today as it has always been and as I have not seen the 1979 version of the film, I must look it up on You Tube to see how it compares.
Profile Image for Elizabeth A.G..
167 reviews
September 29, 2018
This is a classic swashbuckling adventurous romance that involves a lazy, uninspired gentleman who evolves into something more. Kingly politics, subterfuge, mistaken identity, ruthless villains, swordfights, dungeons, a desirable princess, and rustic, wooded surroundings with country inns and castles are all described in the narration by our protagonist, Rudolf Rassendyll. This is an intriguing, fun, and humorous read with a story whose secrets must be maintained.
Profile Image for Sebastien Castell.
Author 48 books4,307 followers
January 15, 2019
Reading Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, I find myself comparing it to Raphael Sabatini's Scaramouche. This may not be entirely fair; the former was written some 40 years before the latter, and Sabatini almost certainly read Hope's famous adventure novel and so could both take inspiration from and improve upon it. With that said, it's hard not to find The Prisoner of Zenda lacking by comparison.

Swashbuckling fiction, at it's core, depends upon the hero being dropped into an impossible situation from which only reckless daring can save the day. In the case of The Prisoner of Zenda, gentleman at leisure Rudolf finds himself having to take the place of the King of the fictional nation of Ruritania, protecting the throne for the country's rightful King whilst he's held prisoner by his unscrupulous brother.

The story moves apace – faster by far than most of its contemporaries – and never fails to entertain. To a modern reader, however, the book will often feel sexist in a way that's more preposterous than offensive. Women are characterized first and foremost by their beauty, and in fact, their beauty is the best indicator of their underlying goodness. That 'goodness' is no less superficial in that it's entirely about being demure and devoted rather than the female characters having any agency of their own. They exist, quite simply, to love men.

It's true that The Prisoner of Zenda was written in the 1890s, but even through that lens, you'll likely find the women in the novel rather ridiculous. The men, too, are rather over-the-top, defined entirely by the narrator's notion of their masculinity. Again, it's an older novel, but I'm not indicting it so much as explaining what held me back from fully enjoying it.

Raphael Sabatini's Scaramouche carries many of the same swashbuckling tropes, but within its more complex and nuanced characters the reader can find more depth, and, most importantly, more questioning of the underlying ideology of its time. Set during the French Revolution, Scaramouche regularly forces its main character and we the reader to consider both the side of the revolutionaries and the royalists. Further, it sets itself not always in Paris, but often in the countryside, making us see a bit of what farmers and regular folk were dealing with. And while I can't say that Sabatini's female characters resonate entirely to a modern audience, but they do have some level of agency.

If this feels too much like a first-year English Lit critique of The Prisoner of Zenda, I can only answer that these were just the thoughts I had reading the book – that while I adore swashbuckling adventure, I found the lack of depth in the themes and characters sometimes pulled me out of the story.

Without introducing any spoilers, I should say that the end of The Prisoner of Zenda felt much more compelling and nuanced to me. Both Rudolf (the hero) and Flavia (the woman he loves) were given room to teeter on the edge of choosing love over duty, and the way those final moments played out were captivating for me.

So after all my complaints, I still find myself at least a little tempted to pick up the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, so perhaps I enjoyed The Prisoner of Zenda more than I thought while I was reading it. I think I'd make a terrible book critic.
Profile Image for Betty B Goode.
19 reviews27 followers
December 12, 2012
The Prisoner of Zenda is a classic story taking place in the fictional German state "Ruritania"–a word which has come to be a generic term for "small fictional country in Europe which saved the writer the trouble of too much research", so well-known was Anthony Hope's story once. I should probably state up front that I love fictional places; countries, cities, stately homes, the occasional uninhabited island... You name it. That I would sooner or later have to visit Ruritania was obviously inevitable.

The basic story is what I like to call the "Two Peas In A Pod"-plot. You've encountered it before–in Mark Twain's The Prince and The Pauper, Dumas' The Man in the Iron Mask, the film Dave... You've surely encountered it in some form before. The idea is that you have two people so incredibly alike that they can switch places and none will be the wiser. In this case, the reason is a common ancestor and obviously very dominant genes, and the result is that Rudolf Rassendyll and King Rudolf of Ruritania look exactly the same. Due to sinister plots and intrigues, Rassendyll is forced to take the king's place while he is imprisoned in the castle of Zenda. This leads to romantic entanglements when the king's future wife and cosuin Flavia suddenly finds herself liking Rudolf a lot more than she ever did before, and swashbuckling adventure as the king must be saved and put safely back on the throne.

Rassendyll isn't a bad sort of character – he's reasonably likeable and not insufferably goody-two-shoes. He's not splendidly charismatic either – the major star of the book is without a doubt the utterly despicable and dashingly handsome villain Rupert of Henzau who kills and kisses with the same flair and splendid lack of remorse. Flavia is nice and not a nitwit at all; she doesn't actually require saving even once, mostly because she behaves perfectly reasonably (take note, modern writers!). There are sword-fights and moat-swimming and the occasional witty verbal exchange so I can't complain. I also find the description of Rudolf's life as a royal fairly realistic in the peculiar mix of power and circumscription.

The plot is obviously over the top ridiculous and the book is clearly not written yesterday, but it mostly shows in a rather charming way. Vintage, rather than mouldy. I especially love the very period realistic touches, such as when Rudolf goes on a swimming mission at night and describes his dress as: "I was covered with a large cloak, and under this I wore a warm, tight-fitting woollen jersey, a pair of knickerbockers, thick stockings, and light canvas shoes. I had rubbed myself with oil, and I carried a large flask of whisky." Take that, Jason Bourne!

To sum up; a classic swashbuckling adventure that still entertains after all these years and is a must for lovers of the genre.
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,253 reviews182 followers
January 24, 2023
The Prisoner of Zenda is such a fun swashbuckling adventure. Well, it depends what you understand by the term. Hope opts for the Middle Ages version, with a tale of chivalry and chaste courtly love, that he blends with the age-old trope of mistaken identities, and sets it in the late 19th century. Great way to spend an afternoon :O)

Profile Image for Bev.
2,961 reviews265 followers
April 29, 2011

The Prisoner of Zenda is a fun little tale of adventure and derring-do written at the turn of the century (the 19th century, that is) by Anthony Hope. It is a well-known tale. There is danger to a famous personage (in this case, the King of Ruritania) and there just happens to be a distant cousin who looks exactly like him on the spot who can fill in and help out. There have been many a book and many a film based on this idea (Danny Kaye starred in perhaps five different versions of this sort of thing), but told right it makes for a good story. Fortunately, Anthony Hope tells it right.

In Zenda we have Rudolf Rassendyll, an English gentleman whose family has distant ("wrong side of the blanket") ties to the royal family of Ruritania. These ties are evidenced by the red hair and straight nose which shows up every couple of generations...and which our hero, Rudolf, of course, displays. At the beginning of the novel, Rudolf is being chastised by his sister-in-law for not doing anything. He is a younger son who, in these days before two world wars will so change everything, has enough of a competence that he doesn't have to do anything. To please her, he says that he will, in six months, take up a post as an attache to an ambassador. In the meantime, the subject of Ruritania has come up and he decides that he will take a vacation to that land of his distant kin.

Quite by chance, he finds himself at the same inn as the soon to be crowned King and it is remarked how similar they are in feature--save that the King is now clean-shaven and Rudolf sports a mustache and an "imperial" (beard, presume). When trouble enters the picture and it becomes apparent that the King's half-brother is plotting to take over the kingdom, Rudolf bravely offers his services to foil the plot. This plot begins with drugged wine which so incapicitates the King that it seems he won't be able to attend his own coronation--that is the opening that "Black Michael" is waiting for. Rudolf agrees to impersonate the King at the coronation ceremony and afterward to help protect the monarch. The plot takes many twists and turns--involving the kidnapping of the King, a longer impersonation than planned, and many swordfights and midnight chases. Things are made all the more difficult when Rudolf falls in love with the King's intended, Princess Flavia.

This is an old-fashioned tale about when men were men and loyalty meant something. It is also a great story of the triumph of good over evil. In today's world, it may seem a little overwrought and dramatic, but there's nothing wrong with a good, solid story of good men and good deeds. Oh, and don't forget the good women. We have one who risks her life to aid and warn those loyal to the King and we have Princess Flavia who is willing to deny herself her one true love in order to do her duty to her people and fulfill her own brand of loyalty. A very stirring tale on all counts. Four stars.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,497 followers
September 13, 2016
Prisoner of Zenda (1894) is a little slip of a book: its influence is heavier than its pages. Filmed numerous times, including (as El pointed out) once when it was called Dave and had Kevin Kline in it, and another time when it played out in the background of a Bojack Horseman episode.

And it was the major influence on Nabokov's Pale Fire, which basically amounts to an extended trippy metafictional cover of the same story. (Here's more on the similarities, if you need convincing.)

The story: what, you haven't seen Dave? What's your problem, that movie is awesome. Fine: the king is incapacitated and a normal guy who happens to look just like him is convinced to stand in for him. And then there's some buckling of swashes, and this terrific villain, Rupert Hentzau, who very nearly runs off with the story. (You can see Hope itching to switch to him, and in fact he wrote a sequel called Rupert of Hentzau that I wouldn't be against reading myself.)

It's a great plot, executed well and leanly; this might not be the world's heaviest book, but you could certainly do a lot worse with your weekend.
Profile Image for Czarny Pies.
2,532 reviews1 follower
May 20, 2021
I was stunned by how inconsequential this slim little volume was. It is the founding work of the Ruritanian Romance genre which is a late variant of the Swashbuckler genre created by Alexandre Dumas. The definining characteristics of the Ruritanian genre are a setting in central Europe. At a time when the forces liberalism were unifying Italy and Germany, the British public retreated into a fairy land world where the world composed of micro-kingdoms in which there would be no question of either modernization or nationalism. The only concerns were that the princess would find her prince charming and that the couple would accede to the throne in order to maintain the golden era.
I am at a loss to explain why "The Prisoner of Zenda" was such a great hit. It has the qualities of an operetta without the frothy Viennese music. I found it witless and completely unentertaining. The basic premise though is intriguing. The hero is the younger brother of a British Lord with a lovely wife. He knows that he can live comfortably in England but with neither a title nor an estate, he will never be happy in the manner. His sister-in-law urges him to work at a career in order to acquire wealth and status but he is not interested. On a whim he goes to Ruritania where he meets a Princess. The two fall in love. Through swashbuckling heroices he thwarts a by an usurper to overthrow the legimate king. The result is that the Princess can then marry the legitimate King that she had been betrothed to. The protagonist discovers that his status is the same in the fairy land of Ruritania as it is England. He returns home to await a second adventure.
Profile Image for Cait.
1,073 reviews30 followers
January 17, 2021
full disclosure, I 100% only read this to have more context for a kj charles book because I was getting sad over nearing the end of charles's oeuvre and decided to branch out into her more minor works.

apparently this was smashing good fun for the victorians, but for a book that would definitely go on amanda's 'buckle your swashes' shelf, I found it pretty tough to get through (and it's only one hundred something pages!).

however, we DO have this book to thank for julie andrews as queen clarisse renaldi, so there's that!! basically, this book is a grown-up version of the prince and the pauper. thanks to some royal tomfoolery, the rassendyll family of england bears a shocking resemblance to the kingly line of fictional european country ruritania. idle layabout rudolf rassendyll ("why in the world should I do anything? my position is a comfortable one. I have an income nearly sufficient for my wants (no one's income is ever quite sufficient, you know), I enjoy an enviable social position: [...] behold, it is enough!") travels to ruritania for purposes of Wealthy Cadet Fun and makes some high-in-the-instep drinking buddies. the real king rudolf becomes incapacitated, our rudolf r. is forced to take his place, shenanigans ensue.

this book was so popular that it spawned an entire "ruritanian romance" genre, which means that any time you read or watch something set in fictional european makebelieveia you are consuming the spiritual successors of the prisoner of zenda. this means that, yes, the princess diaries is a ruritanian romance. the princess switch is a ruritanian romance! everything may very well be a ruritanian romance. definitive figures not yet back from analysis.

the og ruritanian romance is pretty gay. the king's brother black michael is ostensibly the primary baddie of the story, but once his henchman rupert hentzau (yes, all of these dudes' fuckin names start with ru-) arrives on the scene, he tends to steal the show, and rudolf can't let a fuckin page go by without commenting on how handsome and intelligent and capable rupert is: "it's a pity [...] that he's a villain"; "for my part, if a man must needs be a knave, I would have him a debonair knave, and I liked rupert hentzau better than his long-faced, close-eyed companions. it makes your sin no worse, as I conceive, to do it a la mode and stylishly." rupert is really a top-notch villain, and even when rudolf is cursing his name, he can't help but admire him:

wicked men I have known in plenty, but rupert hentzau remains unique in my experience. [...]

"he's very handsome, isn't he?" said flavia.

well, of course, she didn't know him as I did; yet I was put out, for I thought his bold glances would have made her angry. but my dear flavia was a woman, and so—she was not put out. on the contrary, she thought young rupert very handsome—as, beyond question, the ruffian was.

very straight of you, rudolf.

indeed, the book closes with rudolf dwelling yet again on his old nemesis, quite literally the one who got away:

thus led, my broodings leave the future, and turn back on the past. shapes rise before me in long array—the wild first revel with the king, the rush with my brave tea-table, the night in the moat, the pursuit in the forest: my friends and my foes, the people who learnt to love and honour me, the desperate men who tried to kill me. and, from amidst these last, comes one who alone of all of them yet moves on earth, though where I know not, yet plans (as I do not doubt) wickedness, yet turns women's hearts to softness and men's to fear and hate. where is young rupert of hentzau—the boy who came so nigh to beating me? when his name comes into my head, I feel my hand grip and the blood move quicker through my veins: and the hint of fate—the presentiment—seems to grow stronger and more definite, and to whisper insistently in my ear that I have yet a hand to play with young rupert; therefore I exercise myself in arms, and seek to put off the day when the vigour of youth must leave me.

just women's hearts, rudolf? sure.

moving past the gay of it all, a few lines made me chuckle. rudolf "observe[s] that [his] sister-in-law" is possessed of "a want of logic that must have been peculiar to herself (since we are no longer allowed to lay it to the charge of her sex)." later, rudolf notes that "if I were to detail the ordinary events of my daily life at this time, they might prove instructive to people who are not familiar with the inside of palaces; if I revealed some of the secrets I learnt, they might prove of interest to the statesmen of europe. I intended to do neither of these things. I should be between the scylla of dullness and the charybdis of indiscretion." when hearing of others' interpretations of what has come to pass in ruritania, rudolf thinks to himself, "if diplomatists never know anything more than they had succeeded in finding out in this instance, they appear to me to be somewhat expensive luxuries."

of linguistic interest: MM meaning messieurs, a few noteworthy grammatical constructions.

on the whole, not a read I'd unequivocally recommend, unless you're particularly interested in popular and influential fiction of eras past or are, like me, particularly interested in reading the henchmen of zenda. I'm glad I read it, though.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews502 followers
December 16, 2010
As it starts getting really cold outdoors, and as the snow starts to come down and actually stick, I always seem to get the urge to read a good, swashbuckling novel. Swords. Trickery. Escapades. Love affairs. These are the things that keep me warm as the weather changes. A big mug of hot tea and an adventure story are all I really ask.

This year the best choice was The Prisoner of Zenda. Surprisingly as I read and began to understood the plot, the first thing to come to mind was the 1993 film with Kevin Kline, Dave. Remember the one? The president of the US is knocked out of commission by a stroke or something and while he's in a coma, a layman who strongly resembles him is put in his place to avoid a huge international scandal. Except the story here doesn't involve Kevin Kline exactly.

This story features an imaginary land, Ruritania. King Rudolf is abducted before really taking the throne, and the layman here is the king's far-removed cousin, also named Rudolf. They share the name but also their looks, and Cousin Rudolf is put in the throne in the king's place to try to fix the situation. After all, who has balls big enough to really say, "No, wait! That's not the King! I know this because I have drugged him and have hidden him in a remote town called Zenda! *crickets chirp* Oh, shit..." So obviously the abductor(s) aren't gonna say a thing. And it's up to Cousin Rudolf to save the day.

And of course there are some sword fights and some dashing young men and women with heaving bosoms. (Okay, the last bit is strongly implied. I do not believe the phrase "heaving bosoms" was included in the actual text.) All in all this was a fun little read, lots of adventure, just like I had hoped. There was certainly more adventure than there was in Dave. But unlike in the movie, Rudolf and Princess Flavia do not sing that one really annoying song from Annie.

Profile Image for نوري.
847 reviews267 followers
December 31, 2017

أعشق الكلاسيكيات فهي روايات واضحة تدعو للنُبل وتمقُت الشر وتحاربه، تلك الأشياء التي لم تعد واضحة في الأعمال الروائية الجديدة.

تحدث مؤامرة في في مملكة روريتاريا يدُبرها الدوق للملك، ويتصادف وجود "رودلف راسندل" هو يعتبر إبن عم الملك وشبيهه ويقوم بدوره لحين الإنتهاء من المؤامرة.

لا تخلو الرواية من علاقات عاطفية ومن صداقة وفية.
Profile Image for Ahmed.
753 reviews506 followers
September 28, 2016
السبب الأساسي لقرائتي لهذة الرواية هو محاولة فهم الكوميكس الكثيرة المنتشرة على الفيس بوك حولها
لأنها تدرس لطلبة الثانوية العامة المصرية :D
Profile Image for Hussam Aql.
128 reviews159 followers
July 30, 2017
.أسهل وصفة لضمان قراءة ممتعة؛ إقرأ في الكلاسيكيات
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,262 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.