And Then I Read: CITY OF THE BEASTS

© Isabel Allende, cover art © Cliff Nielsen.

This ambitious novel is aimed at young adult readers, but is complex enough to interest adults. Fifteen-year-old Alex’s mother is very ill, and he must go to stay with his grandmother for a while. His grandmother is far from what one might expect, though. She’s a feisty nature writer about to go on an expedition to an unexplored region of the Amazon river basin with a group hoping to find a mysterious creature known as the Yeti of the Amazon. Alex has no choice but to go with her, and soon finds himself in situations he could never have imagined, surrounded by dangerous wildlife and more dangerous people. Nadia, the daughter of the group’s local guide, becomes a close friend, and before long they are spirited away from their group by natives of a tribe which has never made contact with civilization. That’s only the beginning of Alex’s adventures, though. With an ancient shaman, he and Nadia must make a harrowing journey into the sacred mountain of the gods of this world, or are they the Beasts his group was searching for all along? And once there, further challenges await him.

There are about a dozen characters in this well-written tale that could have supported a book of their own, and enough plot to fill a standard trilogy, but it never feels cramped or rushed. Ecological themes are ever-present, but not in a preachy way; human nature is explored in a variety of good and bad aspects, and the world of this story is as engrossing and rich as that of the film “Avatar,” but in a more realistic setting. Great read, and Allende has written sequels about Alex, which I’ll be looking for in the future. Recommended.

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