“Adventure seekers will find plenty of thrills in Allende’s first novel for young readers…Reluctant readers may be intimidated by the thickness of this volume, but the plot moves at a rapid pace, laced with surprises and ironic twists.”
“Adventure-stuffed page turner…Allende’s notorious, luminous gift for imaginative story-telling runs wild in the jungle.”
“[Alexander and Nadia] are destined to embark on a literally cliff-hanging quest, as they come face to face with the beasts (yes, plural), as well as their own innermost fears. Their journey also teaches them to appreciate the ways of the ‘People of the Mist’—a remote clan so finely attuned to nature that they can literally disappear into it. With flashes of humor and lush physical detail, Allende keeps her didactic agenda in check, though there are lessons aplenty to be gleaned here about respecting differences, honoring the balance of life and the need to draw on deep reserves to meet unforeseeable challenges. City of the Beasts is an exciting first entry in a new series from Allende. Watch out, J.K. Rowling!”
—Sandy MacDonald, Children’s BookPage
“When you first start reading this book, you might think, ‘Oh, no, Isabel is talking down to the kiddies.’ But that’s not true, you'll see—keep reading! Although the book is written in a spare, unadorned, decidedly simple style, that is just a smokescreen for the slow-starting plot. Before you know it, the haze clears and the body of the story opens up in front of you like a clearing in the Amazonian jungle where most of the action takes place, and you are hooked.
City of the Beasts centers on the adventures of Alexander Cold, a typical fifteen-year-old boy. He goes to school, where he’s in band; he has a crush on a girl in his class, likes to rock-climb with his dad, fights with his sisters. Ordinary. But when his mother becomes ill, he is sent to stay with his grandmother, Kate, who is most untypical. She is a writer for International Geographic magazine, which seems to be modeled after another very popular magazine—you guess which one. She is portrayed as an old-school journalist of the hard-drinking, hard-nosed, get-the-story-at-any-cost kind. To tell the truth, neither character is very appealing at first. But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that they are neither as bad as they seem. They are just insecure and unwilling to open up, but they really do love each other, and both of them grow a great deal emotionally during the book.
Alexander’s grandmother is on assignment to find ‘The Beast,’ a yeti-like monster with a stench so bad that it has been known to paralyze or even kill those who smell it. Traveling by boat to reach the remote jungle outpost where they will meet the rest of their group, Alex begins to see the larger world around him, far from his suburban home. Although still feeling very sorry for himself, and absolutely refusing to eat the exotic dishes (monkey, tapir, cassava) presented to him, he begins to show some interest in the adventure when he meets Nadia, the daughter of another expedition member. Nadia has been raised in the Amazon, has a pet monkey, is friends with a shaman, talks to the animals and is just all around a different kind of girl than he is used to. They become fast friends. With Nadia’s help, Alex learns the ways of the jungle.
The Amazon is full of dangerous characters—vicious animals, savage Indian tribes, unscrupulous smugglers, corrupt soldiers—not to mention the legendary Beast. When the young friends uncover clues of a plot to kill off the natives so the area will be opened for mining, they resolve to keep their eyes open and try to foil the plan—a goal that becomes even more urgent when they meet and befriend the mysterious People of the Mist. But nothing turns out like they expect. Who should they trust?
The exciting, surprising finale will leave you hungry for more. Never fear—City of the Beasts is the first book of a planned series. Why don't you go ahead and clear out a little space in your bookshelves now? These are going to be keepers!”
—April Chase, Curled Up With A Good Book
“Combine a magical world, mystical shamanic adventure, and feisty and eccentric characters with a fast-paced eco-thriller and you have Allende’s first book for young adults. Set in the lush and treacherous Amazonian rain forest, this is the story of 15-year-old Alexander Cold and 12-year-old Nadia Santos. While his mother is in Texas for chemotherapy treatment, Alex is spending the summer with his emotionally distant grandmother, who has been hired to find and write an article on the ‘Beast’ that has been terrorizing the jungle. Partially funded by a suspicious businessman, the party includes a self-centered professor, several photographers, a government doctor and soldiers, a few native Indians, and a guide, Cesar Santos, who brings along his daughter. Alex and Nadia become good friends, and together discover their own inner strengths through visions and shamanic journeys with the local tribe. The plot is as thick as its jungle setting. There are dangers such as the terrifying humanoid Beast that kills with huge claws, anacondas, natives with poison dart arrows, and an untrustworthy member of the expedition. The story is a struggle between good and evil, filled with surprises and adventure. Put this title on your ‘If You Liked Harry Potter’ lists, and Allende may just find new fans. Though this is a rather hefty book, it is a real page-turner with hope for more, as Allende leaves readers with, ‘Until we meet again—.’”
—School Library Journal
“Acclaimed author Allende’s first YA novel, part thrilling survival adventure, part coming-of-age journey, blends magical realism with grim history and contemporary politics in a way that shakes up all the usual definitions of savagery and civilization. Alex, 15, has been wrenched from the safe boundaries of his California home to accompany his journalist grandmother, Kate, on an International Geographic Expedition deep into the heart of the Amazon jungle. They are searching for a legendary beast, a gigantic, possibly humanoid creature that has been glimpsed in the area. The setting is more than background here: it’s the heart of the story. The Indian People of the Mist, who have lived in the region since the Stone Age, are now threatened by adventurers and entrepreneurs who want the land and its riches. There’s some plot contrivance as Alex and a local girl each go on a vision quest to save the Indians; and some expedition members seem like caricatures—the buffoon anthropologist, the idealistic physician, the hard grandma. But the characters are also funny, angry, and needy, and they surprise even themselves. Caught by the young characters and their wild adventures, readers will race through this for the story, then stop and think about the issues of wildness, survival, and the nature of beasts and humans.”
—Hazel Rochman, Booklist
“Allende’s foray into young adult literature brings a heady dose of her personal brand of magical realism. A marvelous thread of cultural and environmental themes authenticates this National Geographic-like photo essay about the depths of the Amazon. Leaving his mother’s grave illness behind, Alexander finds himself a key member of an international search party tracing a path to locate the Beast of the jungle. Grandmother Kate is suspect right from the outset, when she neither picks up her grandson at the airport nor nurtures him in any manner. She is a crusty caricature of herself, the ultra-feminist photographer. Dr. Torres presents an instructive lesson about recognizing evil. Teen friend, Nadia, is a wonderful partner for Alexander, a.k.a Jaguar. They lead this page-turner with proper judgment, fear, and correct impressions about the real motives of the adults and the natives. Scary adventures involve deaths, kidnapping, and the overpowering noxious odor of the nearby Beast, as the team wrestles with the People of the Mist and nature. Anthropological details are engrossing, the talented use of Spanish vocabulary does not need a glossary, and the mysterious taboos of the Amazon and the force of good and evil all contribute to this exciting fantastical survival tale. An outstanding leisure read, this title can also be recommended to complement social studies units on South America and environmental issues.”
—Nancy Zachary, VOYA
“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 keeps 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.”