Young Zorro: The Iron Brand

Written by Jan Adkins
Review by Wendy Zollo

Set in early 19th-century Spanish California, Diego de la Vega (the young Zorro) and his “brother,” Bernardo, are the central characters of this rousing adventure-mystery inspired by Isabel Allende’s novel Zorro. Though the legendary figure is never actually mentioned in the story itself, Adkins cleverly and quickly links the two in the opening chapter.

The Rancho’s cattle are being stolen. The Pueblo’s skilled craftsmen are going missing. Naturally our adolescent heroes find themselves in the thick of the mystery, stumbling into various skirmishes and scuffles along the way, dealing with the Robin Hood-style bandit El Chollo, wild bears, slave-traders and even the precarious battle of a youth’s first formal fiesta and flush of fancy.

The secondary characters are lively and fresh, especially Trinidad, “a half-wild homeless girl,” whom both Diego and “Bernie” find both compelling and annoying. I found her to be a remarkably joyful individual, carefully and lovingly crafted. The tale is well plotted and spirited, making for an altogether vibrant and pleasant read that was also good fun. (It also passed the “grab me” test. Both my sons fought over it. The youngest but slowest reader won. Current feedback – cool!) Ages 8-12.