When I was about, let's see, ten or eleven years old, I got the sequel, "Kingdom of the Golden Dragon," for Christmas. For some inexplicable reason, my dad really enjoyed it, but I hated it, probably because it was part two of the series and I'd never read part one. So for my sophomore year of high school, when my English teacher told us to read a total of four books written by foreign-born authors (that is, born outside of the US or England), I'd run out of ideas by the time I had to read the fourth book, until I remembered "Golden Dragon" and decided to begin at the beginning, with "City of the Beasts."
Here's the story: Alex Cold, age 15, has to go live with his crazy-woman grandmother Kate in New York, while his mom is in the hospital with cancer. Kate Cold is a world-renowned reporter for "International Geographic" magazine (oh what a subtle way to get past the copyright hounds). She goes on expeditions around the world, investigating all the exotic things available to report on. Her latest assignment: go to the storied Amazon rain forest and look into claims that a strange, honking big Beast is killing off people by stinking the hell out of them. She is forced to reluctantly take her inexperienced grandson with her on the trip. They go into the Amazon, board a run-down ship to travel upriver, accompanied by the ship's captain and his daughter Nadia, an obnoxiously arrogant French archaeologist, and local authorities (who don't say or do anything of the suspicious persuasion, no sir! sarcasm)
Uh-huh. Yeah. Trouble is, it's all stupid. Most of the "plot" twists can be sensed miles away. The writing is horrible and clunky and a holy mess - part of that may be due to the fact that Allende, despite having lived in America for many years, still insists on writing in Spanish, and perhaps the translator tried to render each individual line in as literal a translation from the original as possible. I wouldn't know, I don't speak Spanish. I also have to credit this story with making me come to hate pretty much any and all stories having to do with the Amazon (although the new show "The River" has undone the damage.) Try something else instead. You'll thank me.