Captain from Castile

Written by Samuel Shellabarger
Review by Gerald T. Burke

The novel begins in 1518. At nineteen, Pedro de Vargas is about to enter Spanish society as a young caballero. Over the next few days, though, his dreams and prospects, and those of his prominent family, are shattered by the machination of greedy Diego de Silva. Pedro and his family escape the Inquisition and flee. While mother and father go to Italy, he, by luck, goes to Cuba. There, he and his new friend, Juan García, join Cortez’s expedition into Mexico. A year later, the irrepressible Cantana, a bar maid who adores him, arrives, and joins the expedition. After many adventures including the conquest of Montezuma and the Aztecs, he returns to Spain to restore his honor, only to discover that his nemesis, de Silva, has once again put him in peril with authorities.

This novel, first released in 1944, has lost none of its freshness. Despite its length, it is fast-paced throughout, with stylish prose that keeps you reading. Character development and plotting are straightforward and larger than life, yet surprising and compelling. Shellabarger, a former professor at Princeton, populates the novel with a myriad of period detail. This is great fiction!