The King's Fifth

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The King's Fifth
Author Scott O'Dell
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date
September 1966
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 272 pp (hardcover)
ISBN ISBN 0-395-06963-7 (hardcover), ISBN 0-440-94538-0 (paperback)
OCLC 301963

The King's Fifth (1966) is a children's historical novel by Scott O'Dell that was the inspiration for the cartoon TV series The Mysterious Cities of Gold. It describes, from the point of view of a teenage Spanish Conquistador, how the European search for gold in the New World of the Americas affected people's lives and minds.

Plot summary[edit]

The story takes place in a time when the Spanish adventurers known as Conquistadors roamed the New World of the Americas in search of the mythical gold treasures of the dethroned Native Americans.

Estéban is a teenage cartographer of the Spanish Conquistador Army. The story starts when he is imprisoned, Esteban is awaiting trial for tax evasion. More specifically, he is suspected of finding a treasure without submitting the Quinto Real, also known as the "King's Fifth", a tax levied by the King of Spain on precious metals.

However, every authoritative figure in his trial or his jail wants one thing - to get Estéban to reveal the location of the gold he found. Estéban agrees to draw his jail guard a map, but uses the provided writing materials to write a secret journal. In this journal Estéban describes how he joined a small army band of Spaniards to seek the "Seven Golden Cities of Cíbola". Their guide on this dangerous journey was a volunteering younger teenage Native American girl, Zia. She was brought along by Estéban, who met her while in the army from which the band was divided. Being the only one in the group without any political agenda (although Estéban does realize her personal agenda eventually), Zia was also the only one to eventually preserve both her life and freedom.


  • Estéban de Sandoval - a teenage mapmaker to the expedition
  • Zia Troyano - a younger teenage Native American guide
  • Captain Blas de Mendoza (very loosely based on Antonio de Mendoza) - an aristocrat in search of gold
  • Father Francisco - a priest to the expedition who joined as a missionary and an explorer
  • Roa and Zuñiga - an initially comedy duo who are Mendoza's cronies


TV series[edit]

The book was the inspiration for the 1982-1983 anime cartoon TV series The Mysterious Cities of Gold. The characters take their names from the book, the high-level quest is the same, and the "golden lake" scene from the book is also present in the cartoon, but the similarities end there (the cartoon has motifs of fantasy and science fiction). The cartoon is set in South America, whereas the expedition in the book explores California, in North America.

Matching characters[edit]

  • Esteban - Child of the Sun, sneaking aboard a ship from Spain to the New World to search for his long-lost father
  • Zia - an Inca 12year old, kidnapped to and then from Spain, in order to be a guide to her home village
  • Mendoza - a wily adventurer who arrived in the Americas by becoming a navigator on the ship to the New World
  • Father Rodriguez - raised Esteban in a Spanish monastery (only shown in the first episode)
  • Sancho and Pedro - a comedy duo who are Mendoza's cronies. They also have very similar names to the name of the ship in the book, the Santa Pedro.

Choose Your Own Adventure book[edit]

The book is also a slight influence in the Choose Your Own Adventure Time Machine's 1987 book Quest for the Cities of Gold, as the reader meets Esteban at different points.

Awards and nominations[edit]