November Read: The Prisoner of Zenda

Hey everyone! I’m back with my book review on my November read, Prisoner of Zenda! This was actually a reread, I read this book when I was in high-school for my creative writing course, and it actually helped inspire my current WIP. I read a different version from the image pictured below, but I assume the story is the same in both so just a note there. Spoilers are below, so read at your own risk.

The Synopsis (Taken from Goodreads)

Anthony Hope’s swashbuckling romance transports his English gentleman hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, from a comfortable life in London to fast-moving adventures in Ruritania, a mythical land steeped in political intrigue. 

Rassendyll bears a striking resemblance to Rudolf Elphberg who is about to be crowned King of Ruritania. When the rival to the throne, Black Michael of Strelsau, attempts to seize power by imprisoning Elphberg in the Castle of Zenda, Rassendyll is obliged to impersonate the King to uphold the rightful sovereignty and ensure political stability. 

Rassendyll endures a trial of strength in his encounters with the notorious Rupert of Hentzau, and a test of a different sort as he grows to love the Princess Flavia. 

Five times filmed, The Prisoner of Zenda has been deservedly popular as a classic of romance and adventure since its publication in 1894.

Content Review:

Positive Messages: There are several positive messages in this book, mostly embodied in the character of Rudolf Rassendyll and his friends, Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlehiem.

In the beginning of the book, Rudolf decides to please his sister-in-law by trying to do something useful. He shows he genuinely cares for her despite not really wanting to do anything she thinks he should do. When he gets embroiled in the conflict in Ruritania and realizes he is the only one who can save the king his throne and possibly his life, he agrees to do it, despite the danger to his own head.

On the way to “his” coronation, Rudolf wants to show his people he trusts them, and so despite the protests of others, he rides without an escort through the streets, gaining the people’s approval. He also shows he is trustworthy, as he keeps his word multiple times throughout the story, even when sorely tempted otherwise. In fact, the ultimate example of this is after he falls in love with Flavia, he possesses the power to kill all those who know his true identity, get rid of the rightful king, and marry her and live as king for the rest of his days. However he still makes the right decision to save the king, after Colonel Sapt reminds him of his honor. In the end, Flavia too chooses honor over their own desires, knowing she must be queen of her people for them.

As for Sapt and Fritz, both of them prove themselves to be loyal to their lord, the true king. Sapt, as mentioned above, acknowledges to Rudolf that he could kill him and Fritz and the true king and marry Flavia, but reminds him of his honor. But even despite that loyalty to the true king, both Fritz and Sapt grow loyal to him as well, both semi-stating that they wished he could have been king and that he would have made a better one than the real one.

For the short time that the true king is in the book, though, he too showed himself to have some good qualities about himself. When he and Rudolf first meet, the king insists, despite his friends’ warnings, that he wants Rudolf to accompany him and have dinner with him. And at the end, when Rudolf sees him for the last time, he tells him that he has shown him how to be a king and that he will try to live up to it, showing he truly wants to be better.

Another man offers to let a stranger stay at his sister’s house in his place.

Rating: 5/5

Spiritual Content: There isn’t so much direct spiritual content as there is mentions of things. Sapt states he believes in “fate”, and believes fate brought Rudolf to take the true king’s place when he is drugged. Rudolf is Protestant, but the king is Catholic, and so he is called a heretic, and Sapt educates him in the “Romanish faith”.

As Rudolf begins the ruse, he breaths a prayer to God. When he is crowned, a cardinal anoints him, he swears an oath, takes a Holy Sacrament, and receives a letter from the Pope. Elsewhere, after someone has died, chapel priests sing mass for him.

Most of the rest of the content is passing sentences. A man says if they’d stayed with the true king, they’d been “in heaven” by now. A woman calls herself a Christian. Sapt says may God save the king and princess. A man refers to a girl helping them by trapping a man as a “Delilah” and the man as “Sampson”. A villain claims that God gives years but the devil gives increase, and Rudolf admits it may take a miracle from heaven to save the king. There is talk of God’s will, and Rudolf says he believes God shows His purposes to people like Flavia. Rupert says Michael is in hell, and Rudolf states it was by the grace of God that he did not turn out to be a traitor like Michael because of his love for Flavia. He also asks God to forgive him for having to deceive her.

Rating: 3.5/5

Romantic Content: Because of the major conflict which the princess Flavia causes for Rudolf in this book, there is a lot of romantic content. All of it is pretty clean and not very descriptive.

Since he is playing as the “king”, he is forced to play the part of Flavia’s fiancé as well. When he meets her, he greets her with kisses and she kisses his hand. He wonders how things have gone between the king and princess before, and a man asks when the wedding will be. He is forced to play the part of making Flavia love him but not show or feel anything himself, since he is not her real fiancé. After awhile of dawdling, the people begin to get upset and Sapt tells him he must “make love” to Flavia at a ball that night (meaning propose to her and tell her pretty things to please the people). Rudolf kisses Flavia even though he knows he’s an imposter and tells her he loves her. Flavia and Rudolf kiss a few times after that. Eventually, he is forced to announce a date for his betrothal to Flavia. Finally, when the ruse is uncovered and Flavia kisses Rudolf, Sapt tells her not to, as he’s not the king. When Flavia faints upon hearing this, Rudolf gives her one last kiss. Every year after that, they send, via Fritz, a rose to each other with a message of love.

A man is in love with a rich girl who a duke is giving attention to, and his friends tease him about it. A girl is described as a “fair, buxom wench”. It’s stated the king and duke want to marry the same woman. A man dreams of marrying a princess and kissing her. A man is stated to have shaved his beard because he grazed a girl’s cheek when he kissed her. A man flirts with a woman, and a jealous woman foils her lover’s plot to stop him from marrying another.

Rupert says it would take more than a scruple or two to keep him from the princess. However, he is more interested in Black Michael’s mistress, Antoinette, and sneaks into her room one night, corners her, and kisses her. He also tells her Michael is mad about Flavia (meaning infatuated).

Rating: 4/5

Violence: Obviously as a swashbuckler novel, this has plenty of violence, but most of it, save for a few brief scenes, is light and non-descriptive. For example, there is talk of a man dying after a duel. Sapt wants to shoot Black Michael, but doesn’t. Three men trap Rudolf, but he uses an iron tea-table to defend himself. A man is shot in the arm and Rudolf vows not to leave any of Michael’s elite six men alive.

Rupert strikes Rudolf with a dagger in front of all his men, and then gets shot at, but still escapes. Michael plans to kill the king should an attack be made on Zenda and dispose of his body in the moat. Rudolf makes a plan to resuce the king which involves killing all his captors. He believes he and everyone else might die anyway, but determines to save the king or die trying.

Rupert comes to Rudolf with a proposition, kill everyone who knows of Rudolf’s ruse so that Rudolf will get Flavia and the kingdom, and he, Rupert, will get compensation and Rudolf’s gratitude. Rudolf refuses.

Rupert also corners Antoinette, and she says she’d rather throw herself out her window than give into him, and Rudolf wants to shoot Rupert after seeing him forcibly kiss her. Rupert tells her Michael wants to cut Rudolf’s throat. Later, he shoots bottles in the moat and the bullets almost hit Rudolf where he is hiding. He also fights men in Antoinette’s room and throws himself into the moat. Antoinette tries to kill Rupert twice by shooting at him. Rudolf chases after Rupert and wounds him in the cheek, and Fritz shoots Rupert’s sword. A wound of Rudolf’s breaks open after a fight.

On the more descriptive side, in a cellar some people find a trail of blood and a man with a crimson gash across his throat, killed protecting the king. A man splits the head of another man and drives his sword into the chest of another. In the process, he is shot in the hand. Rudolf kills a man and strikes his face in anger. One of the villains goes to kill the king, but the doctor of the king saves him, being killed in the process. The villain also wounds Rudolf and strikes the king unconscious, but Rudolf finally kills him when he slips on the blood of the doctor and Rudolf drives his sword through his throat. Rupert kills Michael, and blood spurts out staining his shirt.

Rating: 3.5/5

Language: There is some language in this book. Someone calls the duke “damned”. There are three other d-words, and one use of the ba-word.

Rating: 3.5/5

Other Negative Content: There are both some negative content and style in this book. First I will go through the content. A woman criticizes a man’s looks and hints at him being lazy. A man lies to his brother and sister-in-law about where he is going and sneaks away. He is away for so long they begin to worry and send government officials out to search for him. When he finally turns up again, he lies to his friends about where he has been, though he does so to protect others.

The real king disregards the advice of his soldiers and friends and drinks too much, encouraging them to do the same, and because of that, he gets drugged and that prompts the story. If he had listened to them, the story never would have happened. The king and Sapt also smoke, and Rudolf once gets the urge to smoke but cannot at that moment. The king’s brother, Michael, drugs him.

Rudolf is forced to forge the king’s signature, and Sapt helps him. It’s stated that a man loves a good lie for it’s own sake. Women are referred to as careless, forgetful creatures. At the end, though Flavia and Rudolf separate, they continue to send each other once a year a rose with a note of love. Honestly makes me feel like Flavia is being emotionally unfaithful to her husband. She also treats the real king very coldly after the ruse is exposed, which seemed very unfair.

There are two style issues which I thought I would mention. The first is in the beginning chapter, there is an info-dump of the main character’s ancestry, which makes the chapter very slow to get through. Get past that chapter though and it gets better!

The last style issue could just be me, and it has to do with Flavia. She’s a very “goody-two-shoes” type character that everyone and their brother loves and is the perfect beauty but also just in my eyes, sort of a jerk. She acknowledges she needs to do her duty and doesn’t leave with Rudolf, but continues to string along their relationship with the yearly rose and note. She just kinda annoyed me and made me feel like she was hypocritical, like give Rudolf a chance to move on and find someone else to love, geez. But that could just be me, haha!

Rating: 2.5/5

Total Content Rating: 3.67/5 Stars

Personal Review:

I have to personally give this book 5 stars for it’s plot and political intrigue, but mostly because of Rupert, one of my favorite all time villains (who helped inspire mine). I love his brazen and elegant air and his cocky attitude, and honestly he and Rudolf were very similar, but Rudolf had honor, whereas Rupert didn’t. The plot is great, and I love the fantastical setting, the sword fights, and of course, the whole Rudolf-posing-as-the-king trope.

There were a couple minor things I didn’t like about the book though. The language for one, could have been left out. It wasn’t really necessary and the story would have been just as fine. I do wish a couple times too, like before the battles began, that Rudolf might have stopped and at least whispered a short prayer to God for safety, I felt that, in light of other references to God in the book, it would have been a realistic and almost expected thing for him to do, especially in that time period.

The final thing is more of a personal style thing for me. The romance. It’s not bad, but… I just never cared for it. While I’m glad Flavia had honor as well and chose not to run off with Rudolf but instead stay and marry her true fiancé, the whole exchange they have at the end with the rose and note makes me feel that though she’s not being disloyal to her husband physically, she is emotionally. I also don’t like girls who are everybody-and-their-brother’s love interest, and that seemed to be the case here — Black Michael liked her, Rudolf liked her, all the people loved her, and even Rupert made a remark about her (though he liked Antoinette better and that made me happy, haha, I liked Antoinette better too, she had more spice and strength I felt). So Flavia just annoyed me again… just like the last time I read it, but I get why she’s in the book and she makes for more conflict so okay, I can live with it, I just don’t like her, sorry.

But Rupert makes up for all my dislike of Flavia, so I’m still going to give this book 4.5 to 5 stars for my personal review.

Personal Rating: 4.75/5 Stars

Thanks for reading! Have you read this book? If you have, who is your favorite character? Who is your least favorite? If you haven’t read this book, do you think you will? Let me know in the comments below! God bless! ~ Kay Leigh

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