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

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  • Posted March 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Richly Detailed History of Miraculous Journey

    Buddy Levy's most recent two books have been histories focused on the Spanish conquest of the new world, and he's shown to be a master of taking complex historical events and creating consumable, interesting, reliable and accurate narratives.

    In "Rivers of Darkness", Levy journeys south of Cortes' New Spain (Mexico), hops around the Inca Empire and travels the length of the mighty Amazon River following the travails of conquistador and explorer Francisco Orellana.

    Orellana was actually a cousin to the Pizarro clan and, though a generation younger than Francisco Pizarro, established himself as a brave and loyal supporter of the Pizarro's during their conquest of the Incas in Peru.

    Levy makes it clear that Orellana was cut from the same Extremaduran Spanish mold as his cousin (Extremadura was a poverty-stricken part of Spain that produced an inordinately large amount of conquistadors). He wanted glory and he wanted gold. Like all conquistadors in the New World, he had heard the whispers and rumors of the famed El Dorado. The rumors were strong that El Dorado lay just on the eastern side of the Andes. One of Pizarro's half-brothers, Gonzalo, the hardheaded, reactive and most violent of the clan, was pulling together an expedition to conquer new lands and find new riches.

    Orellana offered up supplies and troops and was rewarded by being named second-in-command to Gonzalo. Through the first horrible months of the journey, Gonzalo thoroughly played his role as conquering Pizarro - act first and ask questions later; lead with violence. Unsurprisingly, they didn't get far. Nobody knew how to hunt for food in the jungles and they only just barely knew how to survive, while making enemies of every tribe they encountered.

    After almost a year and barely out of sight of the mighty Andes, Gonzalo ordered Orellana to take some of his troops further into the jungle in the hopes of finding a village rumored to be friendly towards visitors and where they could find food and rest. Orellana descended the Napo River many miles and for several days without finding an appropriate place to stop en masse, and decided (at least according to his records and chroniclers) that it would be impossible to fight back up river and reconnect with Gonzalo's troops.

    Levy compares the style of the two cousins after Orellana's first encounter with a native village had been a peaceful one: "It is clear that his (Orellana) approach of using language and diplomacy before violence was effective...and a diametric departure from the techniques favored by his own captain, Gonzalo Pizarro, who no doubt would have already tortured and killed a good portion of the villagers."

    It was clear early on in Orellana's 8-month long adventure that his journey was becoming one of survival rather than conquest. He and his chroniclers, however, continued to observe and record what they saw. And after a time, Levy points out that they were "conquistadors no more." They were explorers and they were survivors.

    Months later, after being spit out of the Amazon into the ocean, Orellana's two ships worked their way north until they cam across a small Spanish pearl fishing island. Levy writes: "Captain Francisco Orellana . completed one of the most remarkable, daring, and improbable journeys in the history of navigation and discovery. (His) achievement would later be called one of the world's greatest explorations, 'something more than a j

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2011

    One of the Best!

    This has to be one of the best written books in my arsenal. The book has finite details never before revealed. The epilogue added more detail to an already incredibly well written book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2014

    One of the best books i have ever read. It does a fantastic job

    One of the best books i have ever read. It does a fantastic job of describing what a journey down the amazon may have been like. It doesnt read at all like a history book. Anyone who enjoys an epic adventure/journey would love this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2013

    Fummy story

    One day a guy walked to work. But he didnt walk to work. He walked two blocks on his route to work. But he never actually made it to work. Cuz he pooped his pants and had to run home. But there was no clean pants so he put on coffee stain pants that lookd like pee stain pants. So the stupid guy ended up skipping work. ***---***camofur im sorry about my typos where i wrote "to camostar". I will get my next story pronto!! Love Silverstream/Lilyflower

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 11, 2012

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    Posted February 15, 2014

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    Posted October 23, 2011

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    Posted March 23, 2011

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