Isabel Allende (through talented translator Margaret Sayers Peden) regales us with a lyrical epic of nonstop adventure. Her sparkling new novel enchants a fresh generation of readers with its astounding spirituality --- and keep us tingling with anticipation throughout its mystical tale.
Alexander Cold, in the midst of his 15th year, finds himself shipped off to his Grandmother Kate so that his father can concentrate on cancer treatments for Alex’s mother. Kate, a writer of some renown and a bit of an eccentric, whisks Alex off to the Amazon with her International Geographic entourage. The teen’s mind whirls from all the sudden changes, but he soon becomes entranced with the expedition.
Suspicion starts to grow around some members of the party. The stated objectives of a couple of nefarious types seem at odds with their actions. Fortunately, Alex teams up with Nadia, the guide’s daughter, and the two form a bond which unites them throughout the journey. They go into each day with open minds, allowing them to see the good in evil-appearing individuals, and the bad disguised as beauty in others.
The goal of the International Geographic voyage involves tracking down the mythical Beast, rumored to be nine feet tall, very strong, and possibly deadly, reminiscent of Big Foot, Yeti or the Abominable Snowman in tropical style. While searching for the creature, Alex and Nadia encounter the People of the Mist, an indigenous Indian tribe capable of blending into their surroundings as though disappearing. The Indians snatch the two kids, and an even more fantastical adventure unfolds. Their interactions with the primitives help the young people understand the world from the jungle dwellers’ point of view. The lesson that life exists beyond the school campus, the mall and the movie theater becomes clearer with each thrilling new scene.
The People of the Mist test Alex and Nadia with harrowing experiences, teaching them about their culture and values. In exchange, the tribe learns to trust --- and even rely on --- the teens. Eventually, they set Alex and Nadia off on a journey to El Dorado. There, the two find unlikely treasures, valuables that may enrich their lives in unforeseen ways if they can survive the many obstacles in their paths. Making the right decisions becomes a matter of life or death.
Isabel Allende seamlessly educates us while we’re in the grip of her ceaseless suspense. Ill treatment of the Indians, catastrophic decisions about the environment, and corrupt officials all get equal play in CITY OF THE BEASTS. More than one moral winds its way through the jungle with the youths.
Fans of Harry Potter note that you won’t find funny-named potions and whimsical spells in these chapters, but there is unmistakable magic in Allende’s words and enough adventure for the boldest among you. While slated as suitable for readers ten and up, it certainly wouldn’t be for the faint of heart, as more than one character falls prey to an untimely death or gruesome injury. Since the Amazon is a wild and unforgiving place, the author has not sugar coated the story. Bad things happen, even to good people, and CITY OF THE BEASTS makes that point more than once.
Whatever the age of the reader, Allende’s first book for young adults is sure to be a huge hit. And maybe, just maybe, Alexander Cold will venture out on another quest in the near future. I, for one, would be disappointed if he did not.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on April 27, 2004
City of the Beasts