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River of Darkness : Francisco Orellana's Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon
by Buddy Levy


Overview - From the acclaimed author of Conquistador comes this thrilling account of one of history's greatest adventures of discovery. With cinematic immediacy and meticulous attention to historical detail, here is the true story of a legendary sixteenth-century explorer and his death-defying navigation of the Amazon--river of darkness, pathway to gold.  Read more...

 
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More About River of Darkness by Buddy Levy
 
 
 
Overview
From the acclaimed author of Conquistador comes this thrilling account of one of history's greatest adventures of discovery. With cinematic immediacy and meticulous attention to historical detail, here is the true story of a legendary sixteenth-century explorer and his death-defying navigation of the Amazon--river of darkness, pathway to gold.

In 1541, the brutal conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro and his well-born lieutenant Francisco Orellana set off from Quito in search of La Canela, South America's rumored Land of Cinnamon, and the fabled El Dorado, "the golden man." Driving an enormous retinue of mercenaries, enslaved natives, horses, hunting dogs, and other animals across the Andes, they watched their proud expedition begin to disintegrate even before they descended into the nightmarish jungle, following the course of a powerful river. Soon hopelessly lost in the swampy labyrinth, their numbers diminishing daily through disease, starvation, and Indian attacks, Pizarro and Orellana made a fateful decision to separate. While Pizarro eventually returned home barefoot and in rags, Orellana and fifty-seven men, in a few fragile craft, continued downriver into the unknown reaches of the mighty Amazon, serenaded by native war drums and the eerie cries of exotic predators. Theirs would be the greater glory.

Interweaving eyewitness accounts of the quest with newly uncovered details, Buddy Levy reconstructs the seminal journey that has electrified adventurers ever since, as Orellana became the first European to navigate and explore the entire length of the world's largest river. Levy gives a long-overdue account of the native populations--some peaceful and welcoming, offering sustenance and life-saving guidance, others ferociously hostile, subjecting the invaders to gauntlets of unremitting attack and intimations of terrifying rituals. And here is the Amazon itself, a powerful presence whose every twist and turn held the promise of new wonders both natural and man-made, as well as the ever-present risk of death--a river that would hold Orellana in its irresistible embrace to the end of his life.

Overflowing with violence and beauty, nobility and tragedy, River of Darkness is both riveting history and a breathtaking adventure that will sweep readers along on an epic voyage unlike any other.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780553807509
  • ISBN-10: 0553807501
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • Publish Date: February 2011
  • Page Count: 324
  • Dimensions: 9.39 x 6.62 x 1.03 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.41 pounds


Related Categories

Books > History > Expeditions & Discoveries
Books > History > Latin America - South America

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2011-01-10
  • Reviewer: Staff

In this fluid account, Levy narrates the story of the conquistadors who become the first Europeans to navigate the length of the Amazon River. After plundering the Inca empire, Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisco Orellana set out from Quito with an expedition of soldiers and Indian slaves in search of El Dorado. The two explorers became separated and the expedition quickly became lost in the jungle, then decimated by disease, starvation, and native attacks. Desperate, Orellana and the remaining conquistadors built a large boat and sailed downriver. Realizing that he would be unable to wait for Pizarro, Orellana set his sights on the Atlantic Ocean thousands of miles away. Levy does a fine job of organizing an enormous amount of historical material and balancing the accounts of Orellana and Pizarro after they separated. As one conflict follows another in rapid succession, they tend to blur into each other, though Levy provides enough descriptive detail and pacing to differentiate between the various native groups and aspects of the river. He also addresses the new archeological research that is changing our understanding of the cultures of the pre-Columbian Amazon Basin. (Mar.)

 
BookPage Reviews

A treasure hunt of history

Buddy Levy’s River of Darkness is brimming with mystery, adventure, murder, hidden treasure and naked women. That’s a lot to tackle in a work of nonfiction. But Levy succeeds, thanks to a confluence of detailed research and lively writing.

River of Darkness is the story of Spanish conquistador Francisco Orellana, the first foreigner to navigate the Amazon River in South America. It’s a remarkable tale, considering that Orellana and his men traversed the 4,200-mile length of the Amazon in 1542, and did so with crude wooden ships, scant supplies and no knowledge of the route, or what lay ahead.

Orellana was a relative of the famed Pizarro family, a band of five conquistador brothers who made their living conquering native empires in South America and bringing the spoils back to Spain. (Francisco Pizarro was the eldest, most notable for crushing the Incan Empire.) It was a younger brother, Gonzalo Pizarro, who journeyed to South America in 1540 with his nephew, Francisco Orellana, on a quest to find El Dorado, a legendary land where the king was said to bathe in gold dust. At one point on the expedition, the pair took separate routes; Gonzalo Pizarro’s exploration ended in starvation and failure, while Francisco Orellana continued an arduous trip down the Amazon from the Andes Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

History has deemed the journey a success, but it came with extreme hardship. The Spaniards encountered deadly snakes and savage natives, and frequently found themselves in a desperate search for food. Sometimes they foraged on plants and insects. Other times, they happened upon friendly natives who provided sustenance. If gifts weren’t forthcoming, or if the natives refused to convert to Christianity, the conquistadors pulled out their swords and firearms and executed their hosts. In one noteworthy chapter, Levy describes Orellana and his soldiers battling a band of tall, naked warrior women who came to be known as the infamous Amazons.

River of Darkness is a worthwhile read because of such swashbuckling adventure, and Levy is a gifted writer who makes it all the more enjoyable; his narrative flows as smoothly and rapidly as the Amazon River. The book is also a treasure hunt of history, offering readers an appreciation of the accomplishments of the early discoverers, while also chronicling some of the appalling aspects of imperialism.

 
BAM Customer Reviews