The Kingdom of the Golden Dragon
by bestselling author Isabel Allende is, quite simply put, a terribly bad book. The plot is utterly predictable and cliched; the characters uninteresting and uni-dimensional; and the writing bored me to tears (it may be better in the original Spanish, but I very much doubt it). The book is marketed as "young adult", but I doubt whether any discerning youngster would be enthused by it.
The story is simple. Big Bad Americans want to steal the legendary Golden Dragon from small Himalayan kingdom. This plot is thwarted by Brave Young American, his friend and grandmother, with help from a fighting monk, the prince of the kingdom and an army of Yetis. Good things happen to the good guys and bad things to the bad guys and all ends well.
The jacket blurb calls it an "Indiana Jones-style adventure", and I would tend to agree. But whatever the Indiana Jones movies lack in the way of intelligent content, they make up in sheer pulse-pounding excitement: something which is conspicuous by its absence here. From the first page, you know exactly where the story is meandering to. It is like a slow train journey where the start and destination are known, you only have to get through the torture of the actual trip!
But for brainlessness and a total lack of knowledge of Asian culture and religions, the book can compete with Edgar Rice Burroughs and Indiana Jones. It seems to me that Ms. Allende draws all her knowledge of India from outdated guidebooks and adventure stories of yore. Picture the following scene:
young Alexander Cold and his grandma, Kate Cold, come out of New Delhi airport and is immediately mobbed by beggars. They somehow make their way to the hotel through similar hordes of beggars, which is a haven of peace with peacocks fluttering on the lawns and armed guards guarding the gate! It is also mentioned that the hotel was the former palace of an Indian prince who still stays there! Alexander Cold, out of "compassion" for the poor beggars camping outside the gates, goes out to give them some money and is immediately mobbed and almost trampled to death by the greedy ungrateful wretches. Then another American rushes out of the hotel, grabs a gun from one guards, and fires a few salvos into the air when the mob disappears!
Even though India has a lot of poverty and there are a lot many beggars, they don't line the streets all the way from the airport (in fact, it would be difficult to find beggars anywhere near the airport and main roads). And they don't camp outside hotels, ready to mob any tourist venturing outside-their begging schedules are much too full! Begging is a serious profession in India! As for the hotel with peacock-filled lawns, it may be some hotels in Rajasthan that the author may be meaning: there are no lavish palaces in New Delhi, nor are there any princes. And the legal possession of firearms by civilians is near-impossible in India: Tex Armadillo's caper of firing off a few shots into the air would have definitely landed him in the chokey.
To think that this drivel was written in 2003: it would have been insulting had it not been so ludicrous!
It is stated that the king of the Forbidden Kingdom (where the Golden Dragon resides) is a Buddhist: but their religion seems to be a strange mix of Buddhism, Hinduism, Tao and New Age science, with a liberal mix of martial arts and metaphysics (the original Buddha avoided speculative metaphysics like the plague). The powers gained by the monk Tensing through meditation are extraordinary, making him almost superhuman. I knew from the beginning that the poor villains didn't stand a chance. And also, there is the Scorpion Sect who seek immunity from the venom of their namesake by taking small bites from childhood onwards. Their bodies are blue-black in colour due to the venom, their teeth red due to the constant chewing of betel nuts, and they kidnap girls to produce male offspring to join their foul band (the female children are killed at birth). They worship the goddess Kali, of course (the poor goddess cannot cast off the image of the evil pagan deity, it seems, even in the 21st century!).
Not recommended for anybody; adult, young adult, or child.