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*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
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*        = Good, with reservations


****The Prisoner of Zenda


Rupert of Hentzau

by Anthony Hope

Reviewed July 29, 2003.
Penguin Books, 2000.  First published in 1894 and 1898.  379 pages.
Available in one volume on for $7.95.
The Prisoner of Zenda is available at Sembach Library (F HOP).
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #2, Mystery and Adventure

Here’s more good, old-fashioned fun.  The Prisoner of Zenda reminds me of the modern movie Dave, making me wonder if that’s where they got the basic idea for Dave.

Rudolf Rassendyll’s red hair reminds his family of the old scandal about his great-grandmother and a prince of the Elphbergs, the red-haired ruling family of the country of Ruritania.  A new king is about to be crowned in Ruritania, and Rassendyll decides to go see the coronation.

On the eve of the coronation, Rassendyll happens to meet the king and they discover that the two of them have an uncanny resemblance.  The king is delighted to find this unexpected cousin and asks Rassendyll to celebrate with him.  They have a wild evening, the king finishing with a special bottle of wine from his half-brother Duke Michael.

The next morning, the king is still sound asleep, obviously drugged.  His loyal advisors are convinced that if he doesn’t show up for the coronation, the people will crown Black Michael in his place, since the Duke is much more popular.  They convince Rassendyll to take the place of the king and keep his throne warm for him.

What follows is a delightful story of plots and counterplots.  Duke Michael knows Rudolf is an impostor, but can’t denounce him.  Then there’s the complication of Princess Flavia.  She’s second in line for the throne, and the king needs to marry her to establish himself on the throne.  The faster he wins her heart, the happier the people will be.

Rupert of Hentzau is the sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda, taking place a few years later. With them both in the same book, I found I couldn’t stop after finishing the first, and kept right on reading.  Rupert of Hentzau isn't quite as good as The Prisoner of Zenda, but it does tie up loose ends more satisfactorily, so the story doesn’t feel completely finished until you’ve read them both.

Many thanks to my friend Leah for loaning me this book.  I’ve had it for months, but didn’t get around to it because of all the library books beckoning to me.  When I finally did get started, after we got home from Scotland, I found I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished.  Isn’t it true that one of the most wonderful aspects of vacation is having the luxury to spend a morning reading?  Now I want to find one of the old movies made from the story.

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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