Thursday, October 13, 2011

City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende | Review

Title: City of the Beasts
Author: Isabel Allende
Published: January 1, 2004
Number of Pages: 408
Rating: 4/5

Fifteen-year-old Alexander Cold is about to join his fearless grandmother on the trip of a lifetime. An International Geographic expedition is headed to the dangerous, remote wilds of South America, on a mission to document the legendary Yeti of the Amazon known as the Beast.
But there are many secrets hidden in the unexplored wilderness, as Alex and his new friend Nadia soon discover. Drawing on the strength of their spirit guides, both young people are led on a thrilling and unforgettable journey to the ultimate discovery. . . .

As quickly as she could, she tried to explain to the Indians that she was wrong, that the vaccine would not save them, just the opposite, it would kill them, because the Rahakanariwa was in the syringe.

I read this book for my Spanish Culture Credit, an assignment our Spanish class has each quarter of the school year to influence ourselves in the ways, speech, and history of Spaniards. Honestly, I think this might be my favorite assignment so far. I looked at reviews for this book once I checked it out of my library, and had my doubts, since a lot of them were negative; but it turned out to be better than I expected.

I've never really considered reading many books that revolve around Native Americans, in fact, this might be my first one. Allende's writing style is definitely different from any other style I've read before. This is her first Young Adult novel, and I do have to say, it turned out well. It seems a bit innocent for the Young Adult norm nowadays (but that's kind of a relief for my book! (; ) but nevertheless fits the genre.

One thing I did observe was that at some points in the writing, the words were "blocky". This was just an observation that kind of gave evidence that this was translated directly from Spanish. Some of the characters seemed all similar in structure—they were either young and wishing to help the Indians or they were older and wanting to exterminate them. The only truly unique characters were Kate, Alex's eccentric grandmother; and Ludovic Leblanc, an arrogant explorer who turns out to be an enormous asset to the story at the end.

But those are the cons. I'm not sure of many others, other than the seemingly endless description. Granted, it was good description, but...does it need to go on for twenty-one pages? But I made it through, amazingly without skimming the paragraphs...oh, did I admit I do that? No, disregard that! :P

I know I say that not many of the characters seemed diverse, but that didn't diminish my interest in the main characters, Alex and Nadia. Though they were similar in traits and characteristics, their journeys were very different, and Allende has a wonderful talent in portraying those. At one point Nadia has to face one of her greatest fears, heights, and uses the strength of her spirit animal (the eagle) to face it. This section was riveting for me, and showed a great courage.

Alex has to go through more trials than Nadia, admittedly. He is already facing trials at home with his mother, who is dying of cancer; and his already-present anger issues. This is why he is sent out to his grandmother while his parents leave to a hospital for special treatment. Alex has to learn to face nature with his own wits and instinct, and he also goes through trials such as becoming a man in the eyes of the Indians. Like Nadia, he faces a challenge to find the legendary Fountain of Youth in order to heal his mother.

On that note, they also venture to El Dorado, the City of Gold. It turns out that, in Allende's world, the City of Gold is Fool's Gold. Alex remarks that the conquistadors who might have found this place and left alive would have left poorer than when they'd come. This made me chuckle. The Yeti of Amazon lore also turns out to be a god of the Natives, an interesting concept that takes the reader by surprise. The Fountain of Youth also turns out to be a trickle of water in a cave. I simply loved these ideas of these wonderful objects of lore turning out to be so much less grand than imagined.

The climax of the book does prove itself. One of the main characters—oh, what the heck, I'll just spoil it—the doctor who wants to vaccinate the Indians is one of the antagonists! Instead of the vaccine in the syringe, it turns out that it's a measles injection. The Natives fear a bloodsucking bird, called the Rahakanariwa.

 Nadia discovers the vaccine's true intentions and explains to them that the Rahakanariwa (Jeez, it's difficult to type that over and over) is inside the syringe. That ends in a bloodbath, and Leblanc's transfer from self-centered scientist to a determined hero. This part did shock me, because all through the novel Allende made you believe an Indian guide who accompanied them was the one who tampered with the vaccine.

So, I did enjoy the book. I don't know that I want to read the next one, Kingdom of the Golden Dragon. It seems a bit of a jump from Amazon rain forest to what sounds like...maybe China? Maybe, but I haven't decided yet. I would recommend this. It's a lighthearted, clever thriller that makes you think about things you've been told your entire life—things from the City of Gold to your beliefs in the power of Nature. Whether you believe in religion or not, Nature does hold power.

I'll end it there. I never mentioned it, but it might be worth just a little mention because it was another favorite arc of mine through the reading—Alex's spirit animal is a jaguar. I love the concept of spirit animals!


Reading: The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa [ELEVEN DAYS FOR THE IRON KNIGHT!!!]
Listening to: Hollow Bastion - Yoko Shimomura
Watching: Shiloh Season
Quote: "Where they create wastelands, they call it peace." - Tacitus

Note: My life has been hectic lately. That's why I'm so behind on posts, especially Friday Fives because you don't want to hear me rant and rant about the bad things going on in my life, do you? Of course noooot. Anyway, I do apologize for this. I think before reviews on the three pending books I may have to reread/look them over again... Sorry again!

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