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THE GOLD OF DREAMS by Jose' Maria Merino. Translated by Helen Lane. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1992, 217 pages, $15.

Not since Scott O'Dell's book "The King's Fifth" has there been a better valiant adventure of a young boy in pursuit of the temple of the Inca's gold than "The Gold of Dreams."Fifteen-year-old Miguel Villace' Yototl is asked by his godfather and Friar Bavon to accompany them to the Spanish New World on an expedition seeking the land of gold.

Before they leave, Miguel's grandfather takes him to a secret sanctuary for pagan rites reminding him of his mixed legacy of pre-Christian and Christian beliefs. He is also reminded of the death of his father on another expedition of this kind. Miguel is given an amulet by the old man to sustain the new "Green Knight."

Miguel meets Juan, a runaway from Spain, and they become good friends and attendants to Don Pedro, the Adelantado, and his bethrothed, Dona Ana, who will lead the expedition.

There is adventure and tension in each day: hostile natives, hunger, attacks and sickness. When they do find the golden temple it is ruled by Queen Yupaha, an old crone who is defenseless and poor. There is no such city. No such temple in these lands. Our god dreams endless dreams of all things, so that they may be . . . "

Don Pedro is killed in a scrimmage with the natives and Dona Ana becomes Adelantada and leads the remaining troops. (So much for thinking women's liberation is a 20th century event!)

The tight and fast-moving plot with a predictable ending - Juan and Miguel discover the only booty - is held in place by colorful descriptions. For example, when Miguel meets the lovely Dona Ana he has strong feelings, "I was unable to banish the features of her face from my mind . . . She was like the fairies in Spanish legends . . . like the secret damsels in the stories of Micaela . . . like some of the names given to the Virgin Mary . . . she appeared to be descended from the sun itself."

When Miguel contracts a fever, his grandfather's prediction comes to him in his state of delirium. "I heard his voice with total clarity, changing in my ears the long psalmody of a prayer in the words of the old language."

Spanish terms such as tamemes (the bearers of the supplies) and cacique (the leader of the tribes) are subtly placed leaving little doubt to their meaning. A couple of cliches slip in (the crew eats a sandwich and "pulling the wool over ones eyes") but the translation is generally comfortable to read, which is not always the case for young adult narrative and dialogue formed in one language and interpreted into another.

Jose' Maria Merino is an award-winning novelist and poet who lives in Spain. This is his first novel for young readers. The translator, Helen Lane, lives in France and is well-known for her interpretations of both Spanish and French literature.

"The Gold of Dreams" is an exciting expedition and even though the adventurers, themselves, didn't find gold, I believe this novel is the treasure.