Here, after last year's Of Love and Shadows, the tale of a quirky young woman's rise to influence in an unnamed South American country--with a delightful cast of exotic characters, but without the sure-handed plotting and leisurely grace of Allende's first--and best--book, The House of the Spirits (1985). When little Eva Luna's mother dies, the imaginative child is hired out to a string of eccentric families. During one of her periodic bouts of rebellion, she runs away and makes friends with Huberto Naranjo, a slick little street-kid. Years later, when she's in another bind, he finds her a place to stay in the red-light district--with a cheerful madame, La Senora, whose best friend is Melesio, a transvestite cabaret star. Everything's cozy until a new police sergeant takes over the district and disrupts the accepted system of corruption. Melesio drafts a protesting petition and is packed off to prison, and Eva's out on the street. She meets Riad Halabi, a kind Arab merchant with a cleft lip, who takes pity on her and whisks her away to the backwater village of Agua Santa. There, Eva keeps her savior's sulky wife Zulema company. Zulema commits suicide after a failed extramarital romance, and the previously loyal visitors begin to whisper about the relationship between Riad Halabi and Eva. So Eva departs for the capital--where she meets up with Melesio (now known as Mimi), begins an affair with Huberto Naranjo (now a famous rebel leader), and becomes casually involved in the revolutionary movement. Brimming with hothouse color, amply displayed in Allende's mellifluous prose, but the riot of character and incident here is surface effect; and the action--the mishaps of Eva--is toothless and vague. Lively entertainment, then, with little resonance.