Image © estate of Lloyd Alexander, illustration by Stephen Marchesi.
This is the second of a series of six books written by Alexander featuring Holly Vesper, and the first I’ve read. It takes place in the 1870s, mostly in the fictional Central American country of El Dorado, which is similarly placed to Costa Rica on the map, though it has some of the features of Panama. Holly Vesper is a spunky American teenager from Philadelphia who inherited a good deal of money from her deceased parents, and is now cared for by an aunt and uncle. She apparently enjoys making expeditions to obscure corners of the world, accompanied by her Uncle Brinton, and appears fearless, venturing into any possible danger with enthusiasm. Being a very modern sort of heroine, she gives the book a slightly Steampunk feel, though the adventure is more along the Indiana Jones line.
The tale this time revolves a round a large amount of land in El Dorado that Vesper owns, land that is wanted by an unscrupulous developer to build a new canal through the country, along the lines of the Panama Canal. To do that, he would have to destroy the lives of a native tribe that has already been decimated, and when Holly investigates, she soon comes down on the side of the natives and their charismatic young leader. There’s lots of thrills, from kidnapping by steam locomotive to battles with the men of the developer to desperate escape attempts through jungles and down rivers. There’s an evil villain behind the development scheme that has it in for Holly (apparently returning from her first book), and finally, there’s a volcano that might just be the native tribe’s salvation…or not, depending on how Holly’s plans work out.
Good fun, fairly lightweight. Alexander never lets Holly get in trouble too deep that we fear she won’t get out of it, and she seems to lead a charmed life full of lucky coincidences. Still, the characters are appealing and fun to read about.