The Henchmen of Zenda: Review
THE HENCHMEN OF ZENDA
K. J. Charles
K.J. Charles’s The Henchmen of Zenda is a highly entertaining retelling of a classic that lovingly turns the swashbuckling adventure trope on its head. Set in the fictional, Germany-esque country of Ruritania, this book retells the story from The Prisoner of Zenda, written by Anthony Hope in 1894, and treats its source material with appreciative sarcasm. Instead of the original’s (in this reader’s opinion, pompous) hero-driven perspective, we read from the point of view of Jasper Detchard, an Englishman with a dangerous past who gets tangled into the story by joining the villain’s gang of henchmen. He is a cutthroat killer whose attraction to men had him estranged from his family and exiled from his country, and he makes for a sarcastic and hilarious narrator. Reading from his perspective is a delight.
In the service of his manipulative new master, he encounters Rupert of Hentzau, a bisexual, utterly charming rogue who seems to be serving both his master’s and his own ends. Their stories collide, leading them through political intrigue, multiple betrayals, unquenchable lust, and, ultimately, to a satisfying, pleasantly realistic conclusion.
This story easily gets four stars from me. It was funny, compelling, and exciting to read, even if you are not familiar with the source material. Charles does a wonderful job of capturing the swashbuckling feel of the original while giving it a queer twist that doesn’t feel in any way forced. The character arcs also feel natural, allowing the characters to grow without ultimately changing who they are as people. The sex scenes were hot, but ultimately not the focus of the story. Though it has romantic moments, I would classify this more as a queered adventure than a romance.
My only complaint is that the multiple intrigue plots are a bit confusing at times, a critique that Detchard himself makes within the story, but this confusion clears up nicely by the end. This memorable read is exactly what you’d expect of an adventure, except that it’s the opposite: the villains are noble, the women are cunning, and the “heroes” of the original are filled with treachery. I would recommend this book to fans of classic tales of daring, dashing rogues, and queer stories with a wider scope than just queerness.