syntinen_laulu (syntinen_laulu) wrote in ruritania,

AU Zenda/221B Baker Street fanfic (‘ware spoilers)

This little book started well, with a messenger from Rudolf V’s Ruritania arriving at Baker Street, and I had high hopes for it. It’s written in the first person from the POV of Dr Watson, like the original Sherlock Holmes stories, and I think the pastiche of Doyle-writing-as-Watson’s style is pretty well done.

My enthusiasm slackened a bit when one of the Anthony Hope characters (I’m doing my best to minimise spoilers) dies who doesn’t die in the books; was jolted severely when I read that Queen Flavia had “raven-black hair” (I mean, WTF? Everybody who knows Hope’s Ruritanian novels at all at all – and who else is going to be interested in a story based on them? – knows that Flavia had the Elphberg red hair!) and dropped to nearly nil as it became clear that the author had jettisoned the Anthony Hope story arc completely and was going to give it a completely AU ending. His plot resolution is all right in its way, but not a patch on Hope’s. Anyway, I do like riffs on classic stories to work with the plot of the original, even if (especially if?) they turn that plot inside out.

But an even bigger fault of the book is the characterisation of Rupert of Hentzau. In the original books Rupert is a charismatic and utterly convincing character; dashing, charming, a sporting risk-taker, and not so devoid of a gentleman’s instincts that he doesn’t, in a backhanded way, admire Rassendyll and even half-wish at times that he were like him. Stuart Davies’ Rupert is just a cruel, sneering, ambitious villain, useful only as a driver for the plot; he is in himself of no interest at all. He is aiming to overthrow Rudolf V to take the throne himself (Davies doesn’t explain what claim he has to it). This contradicts everything we know about Anthony Hope’s Rupert, who would never want to do anything as tedious as be a King, and who plots against the good guys partly for hard cash but mostly for devilment, just to see if he can get away with it.

All in all, it’s probably worth paying the very modest cover price if you’re a fan of Conan Doyle or Anthony Hope; but not worth going to any serious trouble to find.
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