Friday, May 18, 2012

Anthony Hope - The Prisoner of Zenda

I listened to the audio version of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, narrated by James Wilby, and completely fell in love with James Wilby's voice.  I've listened to audio versions of other books and this really was the best, hands down.  I'm not sure if I'd have enjoyed the book half as much if I read the printed version.  Wilby captured the "voice" of the main character brilliantly, in addition to all the other characters, and had fantastic pacing.

Originally published in 1894, the story, itself, is a rather fun adventure, though the star-crossed love part of it is a little too overwrought for me (this said by an aspiring paranormal romance writer, right?).

It's the story of an indolent English gentleman, Rudolf Rassendyll, whose ancestry can be traced on the wrong side of the blanket to the Royal House of Elphberg, which rules the (made-up) country of Ruritania.  He bears an uncanny resemblance to his cousin and the man who is about to be crowned King Rudolf V.  Rudolf R. pays a visit to Ruritania and soon becomes entangled in a plot by the King's brother, "Black Michael", who wants the throne for himself.  Rudolf finds himself impersonating the King in efforts to thwart Black Michael, and sword fights and other daring deeds ensue.  Rudolf also falls head-over-heels for the noble Princess Flavia (this is the star-crossed love part of the story).

I guess I like happy endings, and so (*spoiler alert*) wasn't completely satisfied with the bittersweet ending of this one, particularly when I discovered that it's even less of a happy ending in the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau (well, I guess it depends on how "happy ending" is defined.  If dying "honorably" is happy, then I guess it was... though maybe an ongoing struggle with ambiguity would have been more interesting).

The ruthless, daring, and ever charming Rupert of Hentzau, by the way, steals the show from under the feet of the noble hero, Rudolf, in The Prisoner of Zenda. Rupert struck me as a precursor to the typical hero of romance novels being written now - or, rather, Rupert if he fell in love and was somehow reformed by it.

I found an interesting website, The Ruritanian Resistance, pointing out certain ironies regarding King Rudolf V.  Perhaps Black Michael was not as black as he's painted.

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