Forget what you've seen in Hollywood (a la the Mark of Zorro and the Mask of Zorro)- Isabel Allende tells the story of Zorro, or "the fox." Born in 1795 in California of mixed parentage, Diego de la Vega grows up with a thirst to see justice being done. Contact with his Indian grandmother leads Diego and his blood brother Bernardo to undergo the initiation ceremony into that tribe. One of his taks is to perform a feat of bravery in the woods. The sighting of a fox gives Diego the courage to continue with his mission. Many years later, when he becomes a member of the exclusive European secret society called La Justicia, Diego will take the name of Zorro.
Zorro is actually a coming of age story, beginning with Zorro's birth and continuing until he is a young man. Although Diego has a human adversary in the shape of Rafael Moncada, his real struggle is with himself, or the two personalities that he creates for himself: Diego de la Vega, the European-educated aristocrat, and Zorro, the avenger of justice.
No Bildungsroman can be complete without the hero falling in love; while in Barcelona, Diego falls in love with an aristocrat's daughter, Juliana. Her younger, more perceptive sister Isabel is the narrator of this story. California in the early 19th century was the scene of great change and expectation for the people who lived there, and Isabel Allende captures it perfectly.
As other readers have pointed out, the ending is different than the ones created by Hollywood. But I was extremely satisfied with not only the ending, but the entire book in general. Isabel Allende's narrative style is always a joy to read. I highly recommend this book. But try it for yourself. Pick up a copy! Another book I need to recommend -- very much on my mind since I purchased a "used" copy off Amazon is "The Losers' Club: Complete Restored Edition" by Richard Perez, an odd, highly entertaining little novel I can't stop thinking about