4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Really Swish Swash Buckler!,
This review is from: The Prisoner of Zenda (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
First published in 1894, and not out-of-print since, 'The Prisoner of Zenda' remains one of the slickest, sharpest and most entertaining of novels loosely bracketed as swash-bucklers. The story revolves around an English aristocrat, Rupert Rassendyll, and his adventures impersonating the kidnapped king of distant Ruritania, whose abduction by a band of villains takes place on the eve of his coronation.
Even from this scant synopsis, it is clear that the essential plot of 'The Prisoner of Zenda' is not brimming with originality. The idea of a doppelganger impersonator is a centuries-old story device. Only thirteen years earlier in 1881, Mark Twain had exploited the same basic scenario in his 'Prince & The Pauper'. More recently, John Sullivan played the same trick in a Christmas special 'Only Fools & Horses'!
However, leaving aside minor quibbles about Anthony Hope's reliance upon an old literary chestnut, what 'The Prisoner of Zenda' lacks in originality, it more than compensates for elsewhere. Firstly, in leading man, Rupert Rassendyll, Hope creates a daring, but believable character who quickly wins the reader's support. Throw in the rascally adversary, Black Michael, the beautiful Princess Flavia, plus a couple of staunch allies, and the gang's all here for a right royal romp! Secondly, the novel's pace is a great strength. In its relatively few pages, it packs in a wealth of intrigue, adventure and action, offering no flabby character analysis or philosophising. Compare this to Alexandre Dumas' word-fests which work so well today in abridged versions. Thirdly, the setting (Ruritania, being a thinly-veiled southern Germany with Gothic castles and forests galore) is the perfect backdrop for a tale of bravery and rescue.
In short, 'The Prisoner of Zenda' survives as tremendous entertainment for all fans of derring-do and adventure. Whilst it might be pushing things to far (as some of done) to compare Rassendyll to 007, it is possible to see the early shoots of the 20th century spy thriller emerging from the novel's pages. Indeed, one can be fairly certain that a copy of Zenda sat snugly on the shelves of Ian Fleming and John Buchan to name but a few. And if those two hypothetical fans don't twist your arm, then Robert Louis Stevenson was definitely an admirer and wrote to Hope to sing the book's praises. High praise indeed for a worthy tale.
Barty's core: 9/10
PS. If you enjoyed this review, have a skim through all of my reviews to find other authors whose books I have enjoyed. For example, if 'The Prisoner of Zenda' won you over, why not try 'The Great Impersonation' by E. Phillips Oppenheim?