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.
Buddy Levy is the author of American Legend: The Real-Life Adventures of David Crockett and Echoes on Rimrock: In Pursuit of the Chukar Partridge. He is a clinical associate professor of English at Washington State University, and lives in northern Idaho with his… More about Buddy Levy
“River of Darkness immediately takes its place as the definitive book on one of the great voyages into the unknown of all time, Orellana’s accidental first descent of the Amazon. Not only is it a solid contribution to the scholarly literature on Amazonia, but it is a riveting and irresistible read, narrative history of a literary quality rarely encountered that compares with Alan Moorehead’s great books on the Nile. Bravissimo !” — Alex Shoumatoff, contributing editor, Vanity Fair; publisher DispatchesFromTheVanishingworld.com, and author of In Southern Light, The Rivers Amazon, and The World is Burning
“In River of Darkness, Buddy Levy proves that the scariest stories are the true ones. Filled with fascinating details and the terror that comes with exploring something for the very first time, this is history coming back to life.” – Brad Meltzer, Bestselling author of The Book of Fate and The Inner Circle
“Buddy Levy is one of those rare and gifted authors whose books are virtual time machines that effortlessly transport us back through centuries. In River of Darkness, we participate in one of history’s signal explorations, Francisco Orellana’s descent of the Amazon River. We see blood, smell smoke, hear screams of joy and agony. Levy’s impeccably researched book is at once harrowing adventure and revealing history. Better than any in recent memory, River of Darkness sheds new light—and reveals the darkest aspects—of the Conquistadors’ brave and bloody New World forays.” -James M. Tabor, Author of Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth.