May 13, 2007

City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

City of Beasts starts with a 15-year-old boy, Alexander Cold, being sent to New York to stay with his grandmother while his parents travel to a Texas hospital to try a new treatment for his mother’s cancer. His grandmother, Kate Cold, has been hired to write an article about a Yeti-like South American legendary creature known as “The Beast”, and so Alexander Cold finds himself taking part in an expedition to the Amazonian jungle. There he meets Nadia, the daughter of a local guide, with whom he develops a very special friendship.

This story takes place in a magical world in which spirits and myths, totemic animals and cannibalistic birds, and shamans and visions are real. Alex and Nadia end up meeting the “people of the mist”, a mysterious tribe that never had any contact with civilization, and unveiling the truth behind the legend of “The Beast”, which ties in with the legends of El Dorado and of the Fountain of Life.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Reading it felt a little like watching one of those movies you happen to catch on TV on Saturday afternoons. It was enjoyable enough, but not exactly memorable.

I’d heard that Isabel Allende’s books could be painfully slow-paced at times. This one, however, is a YA book, and perhaps that was the reason why she made it the exact opposite: very fast-faced and action packed. It always disappoints me a little when authors feel that they have to change their writing style drastically if the book is aimed at a younger audience. I also wasn’t particularly impressed with the writing itself. The book has a very strong moral message, and it's one that I wholeheartedly agree with: it condemns the destruction of the Amazonian jungle and of its native tribes, both through cultural assimilation and through actual genocide. But as important as these issues are, I felt that the way they were dealt with in the story was forced and heavy-handed most of the time.

Another problem was the fact that some of the characters, perhaps to get the aforementioned points across, were little more than stereotypes: Mauro CarĂ­as, the cold, heartless businessman who wants to destroy the jungle for profit; Ludovic Leblanc, the stubborn anthropologists who insists on projecting his preconceptions on the natives; Ariosto, the corrupt army leader who closes his eyes to crimes against the natives. I'm very well-aware that people like this do exist, but in this case I felt that the characters were too caricatural to be believable.

Still, calling attention to the problems that take place in the Amazon can only be a good thing, and all in all this book was an enjoyable read. What I enjoyed the most was the setting, which is superbly described – full of exotic fauna and flora and of examples of the difficulty of surviving in the jungle. The Amazon is one of those places I just HAVE to visit one day, and reading this book felt like actually being there at times.

This was my first book by Isabel Allende, and I think I’ll need to read more to decide what I think of her work. Like I said, this is a YA book, so it’s probably a little different from her others. Not all competent writers of adult fiction seem to make the transition to YA successfully, unfortunately. There are two other books, Kingdom of the Golden Dragon and Forest of the Pygmies, that follow the adventures of Alexander Cold and his grandmother, and while I’m in no rush to read them, I’ll probably end up picking them up one of these days.

This was also my first read for the Reading Across Borders Challenge.

Reviewed at:
Books Without Any Pictures

(Have you reviewed this book too? Let me know and I'll add a link to your post here.)


  1. "Reading it felt a little like watching one of those movies you happen to catch on TV on Saturday afternoons. It was enjoyable enough, but not exactly memorable."

    I know exactly what you mean when you say that.

    Sounds like a nice enough book. I do like the cover image.

  2. this is a stupid book i hated it

  3. Dammit, I had to read this book for an English essay, and hated every second of it.

    Complete waste of time.

  4. i liked it but only sice the fourth chapter in the first three i slept every second of it...

  5. I reviewed this book here:

    I bought this book by mistake, thinking it was one of her adult books. It wasn't, but it wasn't bad, just different... a lot more light-hearted in feel, and a lot more simplistic.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.