So there’s this story about a guy going on vacation in a Middle-European country and soon turns out he’s a dead ringer for the local ruler.
Complications ensue – our hero falls in love with a local princess, is caught up in the local political intrigues, that sort of stuff.
This is The Mad King.
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote The Mad King in 1914, and the novel was published in two parts – in 1914 and 1915, on All Story Weekly.
The set up is the same as in Zenda – American Barney Custer is connected (through an old story of elopements and whatnot) to the royal family in Lutha, a small country somewhere between Austria and Serbia.
Curious about his family history, Barney visits Luthia – and here he is mistaken for legitimate ruler Leopold, and falls for Leo’s promised bride, princess Emma.
Where Burroughs deviates from the original template is in the matter of bad guys – not only the usurper Prince Peter is thoroughly evil, but even legitimate sovereign Leopold is no paragon.
When the story of Barney’s love for princess Emma surfaces, the good king Leopold turns out as not so good – and poor Barney has to flee.
He will come back – to rescue his beloved and all of the Luthia population from the Austrians (and from the nasty and inept king).
Because – and here’s another neat twist – Burroughs is using the news as fuel for his story, so that World War I begins smack in the middle of the novel.
If this dates the story – and The Mad King feels somewhat older than The Prisoner of Zenda – on the other hand it is quite a good example of Burroughs ability in writing what amounts to instant books.
The novel supposedly lacks the flair of Hope’s Old Europe yarn – Burroughs is much pulpier, and probably less elegant, while still being his usual self: a first class storyteller, quite capable of suspending the reader’s disbelief (again, also thanks to his use of current events to make his story fresh for the readers).
Granted, there’s no Rupert of Hentzau, and that’s a big problem.
On the other hand, there’s the little matter of Barney’s sister falling in love with a caveman while visiting Tarzan’s estate.
Now, no Russendyll can claim something like that, I guess.