This story goes a little like this: Conquistadors set out to find El Dorado (the legendary king who covers himself in gold dust every day, not the mythical city). They set to questioning (sometimes civilly, sometimes brutally) indigenous people along the way in order to learn where El Dorado lives. The native people tell the Spaniards, "not here! Over there, over there!" The Spaniards set off, get lost in the Amazon, experience starvation to the very brink of death, and then they find themselves under attack from native warriors who have heard about their coming and would rather that they not. Just when things get really bad, they somehow find a friendly, but unfortunate tribe whose food stores they raid, and whose houses and women they use as their own. Oh, and they also claim their lands for the King of Spain, and claim their souls for Christianity, which at this point means little to nothing to the natives. After the Spaniards have rested and fattened up, they begin their journey of travails anew. This pattern repeats itself through the entire book, so it seems like it should become monotonous, right? It doesn't! This is a can't-put-it-down, on-the-edge-of-your-seat story of adventure, exploration, and survival!
[a:Buddy Levy|147673|Buddy Levy|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1218144292p2/147673.jpg] tells the story of Francisco Orellana's trek down the Amazon with a voice that made me flip page after page in anticipation of what was going to happen next. I completely fell into this book because Levy told this story in such a vivid way. I was being entertained and educated at the same time! Levy was a fair story-teller. He was able to show us how brutal the conquistadors were, but he was also able to demonstrate their remarkable bravery and indomitable spirit in the face of, well, a landscape that was out to eat them alive (and often did).
I want to go on and on about Francisco Orellana and this journey, I want to compare and contrast him with the Pizarro brothers and with Hernan Cortes, and I want to try to decide what would have happened if his second trip back to the Amazon had been more notable. But I can't, because all of these issues are things that the reader of this book has to reflect upon while reading River of Darkness, and it's these things that, at least in part, make Orellana's experiences on the river so fascinating. Truly a compelling read!