Title: The Prisoner of Zenda
Author: Anthony Hope Hawkins (commonly just "Anthony Hope")
Release Date: 1894
Genre: action, adventure, drama, fiction, Ruritanian Romance (like The Princess Bride!), politics, romance
My Rating: *****
Students'* Rating: Unanimous "Awesome!"
Official Rating: fiction
Age Group: 12+
Rudolf Rassendyll has never done anything productive with his life, and his sister-in-law can't take it anymore. Go see the crowning of the king of Ruritania, she says. Go rub elbows with the big shots. Have fun.
Fine. To keep his sister-in-law happy, Rudolf wisely heads off to Ruritania. However, on the way, he finds himself caught up in a political war and impersonating someone, the threat of death always upon him.
Best (worst?) of all? He falls in love with the woman he is courting--while impersonating her real betrothed.
Will Rudolf be caught in his impersonation? And how to rescue the man he is impersonating?
And what is he to do about Princess Flavia?
Word of Warning
- Characters get drunk. We don't see them acting drunk, they just are drunk.
- A character is drugged and kidnapped.
- People get hurt, but nothing graphic and usually not serious.
- A few chaste kisses.
- Sword fights. Guns. Excitement!
- A character impersonates another.
- Someone dies.
This is possibly one of my favorite books of all time, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when my students liked it too. Maybe I wasn't biased after all!
No, in all seriousness, this is a fantastic tale. It's so good that it established the Ruritanian Romance genre (courtly romance in a fantasy setting). There is danger, impersonation, sword fighting, break-ins, and very interesting moral musings about what is right and what is not.
It's not the easy-going style of more contemporary writing, but it is intriguing enough and not too complex, making it readable, just a bit of work for younger readers less experienced in the classics.
The main character is fun, witty, and a great adventurer. And while he might start of careless and fun, he develops into a self-sacrificing man who ultimately does the right thing, no matter how heartbreaking that ends up being.
In addition to establishing a whole new literary genre, Hope/Hawkins earned the praise of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island.
Anthony Hope Hawkins is much better known as simply Anthony Hope, it is fun to note that he has the same last name as Stevenson's protagonist Jim Hawkins.
Though he wrote 32 works of fiction in addition to plays, Hope/Hawkins is best known for The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau.
*Students in this particular case range from grades 8-12, class contains nearly even number of boys and girls.