At the risk of betraying my age, I confess to eagerly anticipating
the weekly installments of Zorro's escapades on our (ahem, black
and white) television. While the Hollywood version back then was
akin --- in creativity, at least --- to the old adventures of The
Lone Ranger, Isabel Allende's version is enormously fuller and
infinitely more interesting, bursting with a vivid and colorful
These are the early years, just the first couple decades of Diego
de la Vega's life, but they explain how a boy of mixed blood became
a man driven to right terrible wrongs, save damsels in distress,
free prisoners unjustly held, and all manner of heroic deeds.
The story begins in the early 1800s in Alta California, a colony
then held by Spain. Diego grows up alongside Bernardo, a servant's
son, but treats him as a brother, not caring that their stations in
life are vastly different. Diego's grandmother, White Owl, teaches
them about okahue, the five basic virtues. Almost without
realizing it, nearly everything the boys do thereafter pushes them
further toward honor, justice, respect, dignity and courage. During
an ancient ritual test they undergo to prove themselves, Diego's
alter ego is revealed to him, setting him on the path to becoming
the full-fledged Zorro.
Diego and Bernardo board a ship bound for Barcelona, expanding
their adventures and making friends who may prove valuable later.
They spend several years in Spain, furthering Diego's studies and
exposing him to Juliana de Romeu, the enchanting beauty who steals
his heart and ruins him for any other woman. But Juliana has many
suitors, one exceedingly tenacious --- unfortunately, also
unscrupulous. Well-connected Rafael Moncada, it seems, will stop at
nothing to win her hand. As ZORRO's narrator points out, it
wouldn't be much of a story without a formidable villain. And
Moncada is a truly formidable villain. While Diego wistfully
watches Juliana, her younger sister Isabel zealously watches Diego.
He finds it hard to move so much as a muscle without Isabel's keen
scrutiny. And, quietly, in the background always, is Bernardo,
Diego's silent brother, without whom he would be incomplete.
Spain during this time is undergoing some painful political
upheavals. Zorro works a little magic, but he is up against
daunting odds. The de Romeu family finds themselves misaligned with
the new government, and Diego finds himself misaligned with
Moncada. It becomes necessary for Diego to smuggle the sisters out
of Europe, back to America where it is hoped they will be safe.
This, of course, leads to more high seas adventure, fraught with
storms, bad omens, pirates, grumbling sailors and a host of other
maladies. Back at home, Diego finds many more challenges for Zorro,
for not all is as he left it. And some of his troubles follow him
ZORRO is a terrific, new-fashioned swashbuckling tale full of fun,
history and romance.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 24, 2011