KJ Charles: The Henchman of Zenda

Cover: The Henchman of ZendaAuthor: KJ Charles
Title: The Henchman of Zenda

Swordfights, lust, betrayal, murder: just another day for a henchman.

Jasper Detchard is a disgraced British officer, now selling his blade to the highest bidder. Currently, that’s Michael Elphberg, half-brother to the King of Ruritania. Michael wants the throne for himself, and Jasper is one of the scoundrels he hires to help him take it. But when Michael makes his move, things don’t go entirely to plan—and the penalty for treason is death.

Rupert of Hentzau is Michael’s newest addition to his sinister band of henchmen. Charming, lethal, and intolerably handsome, Rupert is out for his own ends—which seem to include getting Jasper into bed. But Jasper needs to work out what Rupert’s really up to amid a maelstrom of plots, swordfights, scheming, impersonation, desire, betrayal, and murder.

Nobody can be trusted. Everyone has a secret. And love is the worst mistake you can make.

RatingB+

I am quite sure my reader is, if possible, even less interested in my paternal grandmother than I am.

I recently read Sherlock Holmes and the Hentzau Affair and one of my main complaints about it was that the author tried to fix the not too happy ending of The Prisoner of Zenda in a way that didn’t work for me. The Henchman of Zenda also gives some people a happy ending that didn’t have one originally but goes about it very differently.

In The Hentzau Affair, we learn that everything happened exactly as written in the original and this results in people acting really out of character and a very unbelievable happy end. Meanwhile, Henchman starts off by explaining that Rudolf was full of shit and lied through his teeth to make himself look better and therefore the original can’t be trusted. But that doesn’t mean that it ignores the original canon completely. The major events still happen, only some of Rudolf’s actions are different from what he claimed. That has the great side-effect that even if you have read The Prisoner of Zenda you won’t know exactly what will happen. After all, Rudolf might have been lying. So even the retelling stays suspenseful.

That means it doesn’t really matter if you know the original or not: you get all the fun and excitement of a swashbuckling adventure novel with lots of intrigue and changing loyalties and heroes who can have awesome swordfights and snark at their opponents at the same time. But unlike many of these old-timey swashbucklers (like The Prisoner of Zenda), the female characters aren’t just part of the decoration/only there so the hero can save them heroically because he is the hero. The women in this book also play the game of thrones. (And are better at it than the guys).

Gif of Cersei sighing
And unlike Cersei, they all manage that without sleeping with close relatives or being overall horrible.

Now I should mention that The Henchman of Zenda is a story about scheming, conspiracy, and murder. It just happens that while doing all that scheming Jasper and Rupert discover that they find each other hot and decide to spend their time together with something more fun than non-metaphorical sword-fights. And after a while, they start caring about each other. But they don’t show this with emotional declarations of love, rushing to the other’s side after hearing that he was injured or anything one might expect from a romance. And while I really enjoyed the adventure part and am perfectly happy with ‘genre + romantic elements’ I wouldn’t have minded if there had been a bit more time spent on their feelings. Their chemistry was so much fun I’d love to have seen more of it.

ARC received from the author.

Bad Books (and people who talk about them)

Sometimes I see a book and think this sounds like it’s going to be horrible. Occasionally that thought is immediately followed by I need to read this. Which is the only explanation I have for reading The Queen of the Tearling.

But while the occasional trip down the ‘so bad it’s hilarious’-lane is fun, on balance I prefer to spend more time reading good books than books involving royal guards that are worse at protecting monarchs than Jamie Lannister. Or books where the hero shows off the Iron Cross he got for saving Mussolini (The Zenda Vendetta if you really want to know…)

So I was very happy when I fell over this book some years ago:

Robin Ince's Bad Book Club

In his Bad Book Club, the author gives a very enjoyable insight into special treasures he picked up in charity shops. Treasures like an Elvis biography written in verse, a book about giant crabs attacking and eating people, gynecological Christian romances, a book about giant rats attacking and eating people, a collection of essays in which people discuss their sexual fantasies involving celebrities, a book about giant worms attacking and eating people, Z-list celebrity biographies, guides for psychic sex and…more books about giant crabs attacking and eating people because apparently, I missed a lot as person who is too cowardly for any kind of horror. It’s a great way to get the condensed horribleness of all these books, without having to read all of them yourself.

And now it turns out there aren’t just books about bad books, there are also podcasts. Like I Don’t Even Own a Television. Every episode the hosts discuss another bad book. They start off with a summary of the plot, do dramatic readings of the best/worst passages and – depending on the book – speculate on what a character might do in a certain situation, which celebrity might be a fan, cast the movie adaptation or just pick a random passage to read out loud.

But they do all that without being mean about books that don’t deserve it. Because some bad books are bad because they are a bit ridiculous (or more than a bit). Like books about giant mutated animals attacking and eating people or a group of heroes traveling through a fantasy-land where everything is a pun. Other books are bad because every chapter features another -ism and the obvious author self-insert protagonist thinks all his problems can be solved by shooting brown people. The podcast features both types of books but always makes it clear that there’s a difference between them. There have also been a few occasion where at least one of the hosts admitted that they enjoyed the book a lot more than expected and it never takes away from the fun of the episodes.

Recently IDEOATV did a crossover with Worst Bestsellers and even though I had told myself I wouldn’t start any more podcasts, I enjoyed the crossover so much I had to listen to some more Worst Bestsellers. I only listened to a few episodes so far but also really loved them.

They have a similar basic set-up but with different games (What would Wolverine do if he was in this book and is it cooler than what The Rock would do?) And while neither podcast focusses specifically on one genre, Worst Bestsellers is rather heavy on YA and romance. It also features more recent and well-known books, so I have heard of more books they discuss on the podcast. And in some cases, I have already heard a lot about the books they are discussing and I admit I have already heard/read/watched so much about Fifty Shades of Gray that I don’t need to listen to anymore. But that leaves still enough other episodes that I want to listen to (like the Flowers in the Attic episode). And it’s not like I haven’t skipped IDEOATV-episodes for various reasons (like: I unironically enjoyed the Dragonlance-books I’ve read).