The King's Fifth

by Scott O'Dell

Other authorsSamuel Bryant (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1966



Local notes

Fic O'De



HMH Books for Young Readers (1966), Edition: First Edition, 264 pages. $17.00.


A map-maker accompanying a ruthless band of Coronado's soldiers in their search for gold must battle against his own sudden greed.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

264 p.; 5.5 inches


0395069637 / 9780395069639





User reviews

LibraryThing member JGolomb
In my continuing quest to read all that is historical fiction based during the Spanish conquest of the Americas, I finally jumped into Scott O'Dell's "The King's Fifth." I recently finished O'Dell's "Seven Serpents" trilogy which follows the young Julian Escobar as he travels from Spain to the New World in a quest to save the savage souls of the New World's natives. While his early journey established his innocence, his travels across the Yucatan, central Mexico and eventually Peru expose his personal fall from grace.

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 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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member lilibrarian
A teenaged mapmaker accompanying Coronado's explorers on a trip to the New World finds himself following a man obsessed with gold. After becoming obsessed himself, he is in prison for not giving the Spanish king a fifth of what they found.
LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
This book is a tale about "gold fever", the malady where one becomes so obsessed with obtaining gold that one loses all sense of morality and common sense. The year is 1541 and a cartographer named Estéban de Sandoval is sitting in prison awaiting trial. He is accused of not paying the king a fifth of the treasure he discovered, as required by law. In flashback, Sandoval recounts how he came to travel through the lands of Nuevo España (modern day Mexico and Arizona) searching for gold. It's an interesting peek back into the lives and times of the Spanish invasion of North America. As for the tale itself, well, it's almost a stereotypical tale of greed and arrogance. I kept flashing back to the movie Mackenna's Gold as I read the book. But the characters were interesting and the ending is somewhat positive. As waiting room material goes, it's pretty good.
… (more)
LibraryThing member antiquary
Historical novel by the author of the well-known Island of the Blue Dolphins, this is set in Mexico/pre-US southwest during Coronado's disastrous expedition..
LibraryThing member electrascaife
While in jail facing trail for stealing from the King and murdering his commander, a young Spanish mapmaker keeps a journal of his adventures in Coronado's army and his evolution from a boy wanting to explore for the sake of exploration to a young man becoming obsessed with the gold that they find.
I went into this one expecting to love it as much as I loved O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins. I didn't. It's still a fair read, but for some reason it didn't pull me in as I wanted it to.… (more)




(35 ratings; 3.5)
Page: 0.2567 seconds