Though adventure plays a large part, this is as much a tale of how Diego de la Vega evolved into The Fox as it is the story of Zorro’s famous exploits. The novel begins with the relationship of Diego’s parents, one a distinguished California hidalgo and the other a Shoshone warrior. It follows young Diego and his “milk brother” sidekick Bernardo as they travel to Spain, fall in love, have amazing adventures, and become men.
This is an English version of the Spanish original, and at times the translation can be a bit too literal. For example, a Spanish idiom translated literally in the book as “Tomas ordered Juliana to talk things over with her pillow” would have been better rendered as “sleep on it.” These are minor quibbles, however. Full of romance, danger, swordplay, and occasionally humor, Zorro is an Errol Flynn flick in book form. The cast of characters includes everyone you’d expect in a swashbuckler, from gypsies, pirates, and swooning maidens to the token villain. The women in this novel, as in all of Allende’s work, are exceptionally well drawn. The men are also vivid, from the traumatized, silent Bernardo to the honorable, justice-driven Zorro. The Fox Allende has created is slightly conceited, while at the same time chivalrous, entertaining, and likable. The characters are familiar rather than stereotypical, and Allende wisely avoids falling into the cliché trap, primarily through the tongue-in-cheek narration. Set in the chaos of Napoleonic Spain and the Alta California of the hidalgos, the backdrop adds depth and drive to the story with its social mores and shifting political tides. Allende has crafted a swashbuckling tale, with just a hint of the magical realism that will be familiar to readers of her other works. Zorro is delightful fun and a rollicking good read.