Five Black Ships: A Novel of the Discoverers

Napoleon Baccino Ponce De Leon, Author, Napoleon B. De Leon, Author, N. Baccino Ponce De Leon, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P $23.95 (347p) ISBN 978-0-15-156296-1
Ferdinand Magellan's ill-fated 1519 expedition to circumnavigate the globe is enjoyably chronicled in this elaborate, if not altogether successful, first novel from a Uruguayan literary critic. Juanillo Ponce, personal jester to the explorer (called Don Fernando Magallanes in this account), narrates the events of the voyage in a letter to His Majesty, King Carlos of Spain. Lovingly, and in exacting detail, he recounts the numerous hardships Magellan and his men endured off the coasts of West Africa, Patagonia and the Spice Islands. The problem is that Juanillo's name isn't recorded on the official list of expedition survivors, an omission he attributes to overzealous Inquisitors aggrieved by his interest in revealing the ``truth'' behind the sanctioned version of the voyage. Juanillo's personal messages to the king imploring him to reinstate his pension are more likely to get him arrested than to charm the aging monarch, and, in fact, the entire guessing game about whether the jester was ever dubbed ``Count of the Spice Islands'' is too simple too sustain reader interest. The exuberant account of Magellan's adventure, however, is full of the tang of salt air and the intrigues of captains. The author uses gaudy, sensuous language to bring his tale to life, and his characters, though sometimes teetering on the edge of anachronism, are never less than entertaining. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/30/1994
Release date: 06/01/1994
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