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The King's Fifth (2006)

The King's Fifth (2006)

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3.63 of 5 Votes: 3
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0618747834 (ISBN13: 9780618747832)
hmh books for young readers

About book The King's Fifth (2006)

Scott O'Dell's The King's Fifth (1966), a runner up for the Newbery Medal, is an absorbing, well-written, and vividly-imagined historical novel. At dusk in 1541 in a prison cell in Vera Cruz, New Spain, the young cartographer Esteban de Sandoval begins writing the account of his adventures seeking the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola in the vast part of the New World marked "Unknown" on maps. He tells us that his trial for treasonously denying the King of Spain his due fifth of a great treasure will begin in two days on his 17th birthday, and that he is writing to "find the answer to all that puzzles me. . . . for if I do not clearly know what I did or why it was done, how can I ask others to know?" Esteban begins his account by relating how he joined the ambitious and mutinous Captain Mendoza and his four soldier-servants in leaving the Spanish fleet led by Admiral Alarcon whose mission was to deliver supplies to General Cordova's army. Esteban's motive was not to find gold (unlike his fellow explorers, who dream of cities paved with it), but rather to become the first man to map the Unknown territory. He also tells us early on, however, that he began his adventure "not knowing that the dream of gold can bend the soul and even destroy it, unaware that one day it would do the same to me." This is the first of many (perhaps too many) ominous foreshadowing remarks that O'Dell has Esteban make as he tells his story.Throughout his past tense adventure, Esteban weaves his present tense predicament, having to keep the venal jailor hopeful enough that he'll draw him a detailed map leading to the treasure, and having to appear before the venal judges and venal prosecutor protected only by a rookie legal counsel. In fact, much of the present tense strand of O'Dell's novel reads like a courtroom drama, complete with antagonistic interrogations and surprise witnesses. The most compelling parts of O'Dell's novel concern Esteban's memories of his experiences exploring much of today's New Mexico and Arizona, including many places and things that few if any white people had seen before. The descriptions of sublime geographical features like the Grand Canyon, impressive Native American villages like Tawi (the cloud city), affecting Native American rituals like greeting the dawn sun, unfamiliar animals like beavers, nightmarish things like a sunken desert "Inferno," and so on, are skillfully done, evoking wonder and fascination. And in general O'Dell does a fine job of working in interesting historical details, like the Spanish idea that California was a mysterious island and the Cortez law forbidding the riding or owning of horses by Indians.O'Dell depicts the fraught history of the exploration and conquest of New Spain by the Spanish conquistadores with some complexity. To be sure, Mendoza and his party serve as a microcosm of the entire greedy, deceitful, and brutal Spanish presence in the "New World": greed, deceit, and brutality as the invaders tricked and killed Indians for gold and destroyed their villages, etc. while accusing them of being liars and scorning their lives and cultures. Interestingly, although Father Francisco has the right idea when he says that they should be looking at the country they're passing through and its creatures and mountains and clouds "with quiet eyes," Esteban detects in his eyes the same feverish light for saving souls as he sees in the eyes of Mendoza for grabbing gold. At the same time, both men are remarkably brave and charismatic.Odell is a fine writer of potent prose, as when Esteban experiences a coastal storm: "The Cordonazo's first breath had parted a rope. The sail now streamed over our heads like a banner. The sailor rose to save it, but when he reached out the wind lifted him into the air. He fell upon the sea and as a man slides on the deck of a ship, so hard was the surface of the water, he slid past us and out of view." The moment when Mendoza's small party nearly walks over the edge of the Grand Canyon as night has fallen is sublime: "Below us lay blackness, fold upon fold, deep and endless. From it a warm breeze welled upward, as if the earth itself were breathing." The moment when Esteban bites a heavy gold nugget sees the marks of his teeth in it is intoxicating: "a curious feeling seized me. . . it was like a fever and a sickness. It was as if all the stories of gold that men had told me had suddenly come alive inside me." And O'Dell treats the love between Esteban and the party's Indian girl guide Zia with great restraint and charm: "Her eyes are the color of obsidian stone, so large that I see nothing else." Perhaps the novel takes a little too much time to get Esteban on his way to Cibola, but people interested in well-written, well-researched accounts of the exploration and exploitation of the "New World" infused with plenty of universal human heart--especially regarding the fever sickness of gold greed--should read The King's Fifth, though they should also be warned that it, like O'Dell's classic The Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) is not a cheery tale.

I was introduced to this book over the summer at the Skokie Public Library. It made their VOYA list, so I decided to see why this book was chosen. This is not the type of book I would choose, but I am very glad I did. I absolutely loved it. I could not put it down. I read it in a day, (which is very rare) I would have never thought that the story of a young Esteban de Sandoval, an aspiring mapmaker, (who also happens to be in jail while he narrates the story)would be so heart warming and eye opening. This book is written about the time of western exploration in the areas of modern day California. O'dell does a wonderful job of giving us a look into an era that is widely misunderstood. These conquistadores, although frowned upon in history, were human and had joys and sorrows just like the rest of us. On his journey young Esteban learns just what people are willing to do and go through for the pronise of treasure and gold. This book shows us an decent side of humanity in Esteban and the greedy, insatiable side in Captain Mendoza. I like to think of this book as an experience where you can almost feel the emotions going through the characters, and you can't help but love young Esteban for his bravery. This is a great book and should be in the classroom to show a different perspective on exploration.

Do You like book The King's Fifth (2006)?

An interesting look at a group of Spanish conquistadors searching the New World for gold. The story is told from the viewpoint of Esteban de Sandoval, a young cartographer who travels with a group of conquistadors from Coronado's army is search of the riches of the Seven Cities of Cibola. The story opens with Sandoval imprisoned and accused of withholding the "King's Fifth," or the Spanish crown's portion of the gold Sandoval discovered on his journeys. When he is brought to trial, Sandoval pleads guilty of the crime and admits to having found the gold but claims that he cannot give the king his portion. The remainder of the novel alternates between a series of flashback recounting Sandoval's hunt for the gold and scenes from his current courtroom trial.I really enjoyed the insight this book gave of the powerful draw gold held for the conquistadors. When meeting with one group of Indians in the story, the tribe's chief asks, "This gold...why is it of such value that a man goes hungry to search for it?" Many of the characters in the story were gripped throughout the entire book by the mere thought of finding gold, and others were soon swayed by its lure. I appreciated that the author never really seemed to preach about the evils of gold or material wealth but instead focused more on how it changed the characters and shaped their actions and tested how far they were willing to go and what they were willing to do in order to reach their goal.

I found the concept for this book intriguing, and the historical details seemed well researched. However, The King's Fifth did not grab and hold my interest as I hoped it would. O'Dell's use of flashbacks distracted me. As a reader, I felt more interested in what was going to happen to Sandoval in jail, and less interested in his back-story. Therefore, I was more captivated by the sub-plot than by the main plot. Perhaps a reader who is more interested in adventure than in character development would like this book more than I.This story did earn O'Dell a Newberry Honor, and I appreciated it as a piece of historical fiction. Overall, though, it was just not my style.

Rating: I liked the character but not the story… (3 stars)I have mixed feelings about this book. I liked the main character very much and hoped things would work out for him. His narration (of both the present and the past) is interesting, compelling, suspenseful and believable (the details of the map-making process in those days was particularly interesting). I guess I just didn’t like what the Spaniards did in their quest for the gold. They committed one offence after another against the native peoples - and each other! – and believed they were within their rights to do so. This, in addition to the grim prospect of Estéban being on trial for a ‘crime’ (completely trivial compared with those of his companions!) to which he has pleaded guilty and has no hope of avoiding sentence for, gave me a vague sense of depression and dissatisfaction.Is there a Happy Ending? (view spoiler)[Not one that is clearly defined. There is the suggestion that after a specific period of time has passed there might be a happy ending, but it’s not certain and it seems to me that the time until then will be quite miserable and uncomfortable for Estéban. So no, I wouldn’t say there’s a happy ending. A realistic one perhaps; but reality isn’t what I want when it comes to endings! (hide spoiler)]

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