Aboard Cabrillo’s Galleon
Christine Echeverria Bender
Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-87004-525-7, paperback
333 pages, $16.95
Reviewed by Laura Primrose
Having grown up in Southern California, I was quite familiar with the name of Cabrillo. As a school child I visited the Cabrillo Aquarium Museum in San Pedro next to Cabrillo Beach. During elementary school I visited the museum a few times on class “field trips.” I had a vague memory of Cabrillo as just another Spanish sea captain that had something to do with early California history. So, I thought it would be fun to read a novel based on the adventures of this old sea captain from my childhood. Christine Echeverria Bender’s book Aboard Cabrillo’s Galleon was a 2013 Idaho Library Association Book Award “Outstanding Contribution” nominee. Bender’s story is filled with exciting action including storms, interactions with Indians and, of course, a little romance. I certainly enjoyed finding out more about Cabrillo and his contributions to the early explorations of California; however, I needed to remind myself that this was historical fiction.
At first the somewhat verbose writing I found a little distracting, “The latest rain had somehow stirred to life a lingering stench that now probed the air in search of vulnerable nostrils.” However, once I got used to the author’s style, I found the story enjoyable and a fun escape. Bender combines her extensive knowledge of the subject with a story filled with interesting characters who find themselves in a fascinating time with two cultures colliding.
I enjoyed Bender’s sense of time and place. I have a greater appreciation of what it was like for the crews on these early explorations. They were not only exposed to frightening storms at sea but also encountered new lands and people that were just as terrifying. Set in 1542, the Mexican viceroy has tapped Cabrillo to explore the Pacific to find the “Seven Cities of Gold” and to find a route to China. He sails from Mexico to California accompanied by a young priest he once whipped. Cabrillo is suspicious of him and wonders why he wants to be a part of the exhibition.
Along the coast, the crews trade cautiously with the Indians, all the while on edge wondering if they will be attacked in the future. Making their way up the unchartered coast, the crew names many of the islands and bays along their way. Cabrillo and his men were the first Europeans that had explored this part of North America. Their exhibition takes them from what is now known as San Diego to north of San Francisco. Cabrillo becomes fond of a Chumash Indian widow, an outcast to her own people, while wintering on one of the islands. Tension begins to mount between Cabrillo’s men and the Indians thus creating the threat of war between the two cultures.
This title would be best for those interested in history and geography especially in the early exploration of America. Recommended for public libraries.
Laura Primrose is the Library Services Supervisor at The Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho.