And Then I Read: THE CAPTIVE by Scott O’Dell

Cover illustration by Marie Lemoine.

This is the first book of a trilogy about the conquest of Central America by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, after the voyages of Columbus. I’ve put off reading it for a long time because I expected it to be a sad and painful story. The first section is just that: Julian Escobar, a young Jesuit seminarian is enlisted by a Spanish nobleman, Don Luis, with a charter of ownership for one of the Caribbean islands. He tells Julian he wants him to bring the word of God to the natives living there. When they arrive, Julian soon finds out he is nothing but a way for Don Luis and his shipmates to charm and calm the natives while they collect all the gold they can find, and take many of the natives prisoners to be sold as slaves.

Is it the wrath of God that next takes the ship into a hurricane that wrecks it? Julian ends up on the shore of what is now probably Mexico, and for a while he is a hermit like Robinson Crusoe. Things change again when he is found and helped by a native girl, and eventually meets another Spaniard, Don Guillermo, who is working for the Mayans. Guillermo sees in the handsome, golden-haired Julian the echo of the old Mayan legend of Kukulcán, a man from their past they worship as a god. Julian would soon be ritually slain by the Mayans, but if as Guillermo suggests, he pretends to be Kukulcán, he might instead gain great power. Julian doesn’t want power, but neither does he want to die.

A well-written and thoughtful historical novel, as all O’Dell’s books are. I will look for the rest of the trilogy, even though I know it can’t end well.


The Captive by Scott O’Dell

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