The masked renegade with the foxy nickname has been around since 1919, when pulp writer Johnston McCulley cooked up The Curse of Capistrano and introduced the wrong-righting Don Diego de la Vega and his early-19th-century California landscape. And since then, the bold caballero has been fashioned on screen by Zorros as varied as Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Alain Delon, George Hamilton, and the buddy team of Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas. The charm of Isabel Allende's Zorro lies in her distaff point of view the way she takes the time to connect the whole mask thing with the cosmetic challenge of protruding ears. (''It filled the dual purpose of hiding both his identity and those fawnlike appendages.'')
The author plays a little masked peekaboo herself with the identity of the narrator, who speaks glowingly of the headliner here the son of a Spanish aristocrat and a female Shoshone warrior, a traveler from Southern California to Barcelona to New Orleans. But Allende's iteration is outspoken in its emphasis on the powerful women in Z's life, as well as on the hero's ease in a multicultural world: His all-but-brother, Bernardo, is an Indian of the Chumash tribe, and he establishes a trusting friendship with a family of Gypsies.
Zorro is a light and ripe adventure yarn, a female-friendly variation on an already famous figure of boy-driven pop culture.