Ive long been a fan of Errol Flynn swashbucklers and the classic works of prolific (and unjustly forgotten) Rafael Sabatini, but if you want the greatest swashbuckler novel of them all, Anthony Hopes The Prisoner of Zenda is a classic youll come back to again and again: over a hundred years after being written, its still as sharp as a rapier point.
The Prisoner of Zenda is something of a rarity: a Victorian adventure novel that is as fresh and entertaining to read in this modern jaded age as it was in 1894. If youve ever seen one of the many movie adaptations you already know the story: Rudolf Rassendyll, an Englishman vacationing in the tiny European country of Ruritania, meets and befriends the soon-to-be-crowned King Rudolf--his exact and identical double.
When the King is kidnapped by the dastardly Black Michael, Rassendyll must impersonate the King in the coronation ceremony...and in the heart of the Queen. Hopes handling of the romance between Rassendyll and Queen Flavia is both a daring and romantic love story and a subtle examination of the meaning of honor and duty to a gentleman. Of course theres plenty of swordplay and derring-do along the way. If Tom Clancy was writing this one, thered be nuclear weapons instead of swords and email instead of telegrams, but even he couldnt pull off the simple but subtle romantic story and the triumphant but poignant ending.
Like Rudolf of Ruritania, Anthony Hope is a king...of adventure novels. Unlike Rudolf, he has no equal.