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The King's Fifth Paperback – September 4, 2006
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"The writing is subtly beautiful, often moving, and says more than may be caught in one reading."
From the Back Cover
In this deeply affecting novel Scott O'Dell envelops the reader in the heroic world of the conquistadors, a world that is at once somber and many-colored. ruthless they may have been, these steel-helmeted young men of Spain, but they lived their lives on the very edge of eternity with style and uncommon courage.
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Top Customer Reviews
O'Dell's hero in "King's Fifth" is different from Escobar, but mostly in name and location. In this short novel, we find Esteban de Sandoval imprisoned in the Spanish fortress of San Juan de Ulua on the far east coast of Mexico. Having found a significant treasure, Esteban is charged with refusing the Spanish King his fifth of the treasure - the standard percentage that all explorers are due their king. The key drama is not Esteban's innocence or guilt of the crime...he fully admits to withholding the King's fifth. The core mystery is determining where the treasure is exactly and why, as Esteban contends, it will never be found.
O'Dell's narrative bounces between Esteban's flashbacks of his adventure in the new world, and his trial which spans the course of several weeks. A young mapmaker on board a ship in the Sea of Cortes, Esteban becomes associated with mutineers and finds himself in western Mexico with the explorer Coronado who's in search of the fabled Cibola. His brush with the non-fictional Coronado is quite brief, but is reminiscent of Julian Escobar's travels with both Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro.
I didn't find the story as compelling nor deep as "The Serpent Trilogy" although it's well written, and the pacing and tone are extremely similar.
The real story is about lost innocence and the driving forces behind Spanish exploration. Esteban simply wants to make maps...to find something new that's never been mapped, and forever associate himself with such a discovery. Paralleling Escobar's fall from grace, the lure of gold becomes too much for Esteban and, he too, succumbs to the disease del oro. While the story ends in redemption (although not complete), the conclusion is rather abrupt and unfulfilling.
If you seek an introduction into the world of the Spanish Conquest of the Americas, I'd start with "The Serpent Trilogy." "The King's Fifth" is good, but not nearly as well rounded, deep and satisfying.
The King's Fifth is exciting and very enveloping book. I like how the book is very descriptive. What I don't like is when they use Spanish words and they don't tell you what the words mean. Over all on a scale of one-five, five being the best, I would give the book a five. The plot is great. The story line makes you want to keep on reading at the end of a chapter.The scenery is well described and you feel as if you were there.
They travel and encounter all kinds of dangers from nature and from the natives. They ask the people they come across for gold, but to them, it is not important. Esteban and his companions find it all important. As they travel on toward the Cities of Gold, their lust for gold gains a tighter and tighter grip upon them. At the beginning, Esteban marveled at the way the desire for gold had warped others, but later on, he ceases to care for others, and is willing to sacrifice whatever and whoever may come between him and the riches his soul so greedily craves. He ends up with a great amount of gold, which he tries to carry back with him. Eventually, he sees that his greed was killing him, and deposits the gold where it can never be recovered.
The story is told from Esteban's prison cell. It is the law to give one fifth of all discovered treasure to the king of Spain. The chapters alternate with Esteban recalling his journey through South America, and his recording what is happening in the prison. He says his indictment is true; he did discover treasure, and he did not give the king his fifth. His prosecutors and jailor are not so much concerned with the king's fifth, however. They want to know where the treasure is, so they can find it. They ask for maps, which Esteban draws; but he says they will never find it. Even he, who knows where it is, could never find it. He is offered his freedom from his sentence if he will be a guide to the gold, but he turns it down. He has realized that, after all, the gold is not important. He has learned what is important, and when he has served his sentence, he will pursue the things and people that matter.