Tuesday, January 13, 2009

1. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

The Prisoner of Zenda pictureMy eye was drawn to this attractive new paperback edition from Penguin (part of a Penguin Set of Classic Boys' Adventures, all of which look really appealling). The Prisoner of Zenda is a classic swashbuckler, written in 1894 and responsible for inspiring a genre all its own and many adaptatiions. It's the story of young English aristocrat Rudolf Rassendyl, who has inherited enough money and class training (riding, shooting, fencing) to spend the rest of his life gallavanting about Europe and living a life of wealthy leisure. He's not lazy, though, just unfocused.

It turns out he is also indirectly descended from the royalty of small European country Ruritania and bears the flaming red hair that defines that line. He decides, after the moralistic urging of his sister-in-law to do something more virtuous with his life, to visit Ruritania. He happens to arrive the week before the coronation of the new king and actually runs into him in the forest near the inn where he is staying. And lo and behold he is the spitting image of the king. They decide to hang out and the king reveals himself to be quite a partyer. They get so drunk, that the king is incapable of waking up the next day to make it to the coronation. Rudolf is convinced to impersonate him for this important but rote ceremony, which he does so succesfully. When he comes back, however, he and the king's closest advisors find the king kidnapped by Black Michael, the half-brother who would be king. Now Rudolf is flung headlong into a dilemma where his wit and skills will be tested to the utmost.

here is, of course, romance in the mix as well, as Princess Flavia, who was betrothed to the king but doesn't really like him, finds the new king somehow different, more appealling. And of course Black Michael wants Flavia for himself.

I know it sounds like I'm giving a lot way, but all this takes place in the first two chapters. It's pretty heady and rousing stuff. All the elements of a swashbuckling adventure, led by a droll but responsible english gentleman. There is one weird note and that is the character of Rupert Hentzau, a sort of mercenary-for-hire in Black Michael's retinue. He shares a similar spirit as the protagonist, but in the service of evil rather than good. They have several confrontations and at times Rudolf the hero seems more enamoured with Rupert than Princes Flavia. "Thus he vanished - reckless and wary, graceful and graceless, handsome and debonair, vile and unconquered." Those British arisocrats, you never now.

A great way to start the year. I'm happy to learn there is a sequel. If it falls into my hands in the future, I'll be psyched.


Unknown said...

Good start - I enjoy the youthful adventure novels.

Crumbolst said...

Sounds great. I need something like that. I mean the adventure.

Buzby said...

It's on my deck.