A quiet yet still somewhat swashbuckling tale of 18th-century piracy and colonial tension on a small French Island. Young Raphael arrives on the island with ornithologist Chevalier Despentes in hopes of finding the Bourbon Island dodo, despite its rumored extinction. Unbeknownst to Raphael and Despentes, the island is in the midst of a coup d’état engineered by pirates (known on the island as “Maroons”) to overthrow the governor and free their leader, Buzzard. When the two groups meet, conflict ensues, and Raphael—who has always dreamed of becoming a pirate—finds himself at the center of the clash. With historically based subject matter and simple pen-and-ink illustrations, this graphic novel is more reminiscent of Scott Chantler’s subtle Northwest Passage (2007) than a splashy Cap’n Jack Sparrow epic. With its population of symbolically selected anthropomorphized animals, it evokes such landmark works as Spiegelman’s Maus. Readers expecting the madcap silliness of Lewis Trondheim’s earlier A.L.I.E.E.E.N. (2006) and others may be disappointed, though history buffs will likely find this enjoyable. Discursive endnotes act as helpful historical anchors to connect the reader to this time.
Review in Publisher’s Weekly
This eccentric yet illuminating historical drama draws on the peculiar realities of the end of the golden age of maritime piracy (and its intersections with the slave trade), and spins them into a compelling, engrossing story of people considering whether their cause is worth more to them than their lives. On an island near Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, the pirate captain Buzzard has been captured, and the escaped slaves and pardoned pirates who populate the hills are sparring over the risks of trying to free him. Meanwhile, a handful of Europeans, including a plantation owner’s daughter whose head is filled with fantasies of being kidnapped by Maroons, are drawn into the old order’s collision with colonialism. Trondheim’s loose, doodly visual style takes a bit of getting used to, especially his habit of drawing all his characters as anthropomorphic animals – in a book where several major characters are ornithologists, it’s peculiar to see one of them as a duck – but his storytelling instincts are unerring. This is a small gem of a book, and its characters are memorable on their own, even as they symbolize the historical forces of their time.
Review in Booklist
It’s no secret that the graphic-novel format relies on word-picture unity to give its stories cohesion and depth. Creators can play with this foundational element to great effect, but when the unity fails to hold, it can make for a jarring read. The French graphic sensibility has long fared better at combining more adult themes and stories with more child-oriented art styles and archetypes. Unfortunately, the cultural divide can make it difficult to translate this fusion successfully. Bourbon Island, 1730 is a prime example of this problem. Trondheim and Appollo have produced an informative and sophisticated pirate adventure and populated it with incongruous animal characters that clash harshly against both dialogue and narrative. The story is a complex entanglement that involves a scientist in search of the elusive dodo bird and the intrigue between ex-pirates and colonists inhabiting the true-life Bourbon Island in the 1730s. This graphic novel will prove most involving for more open-minded readers or those looking for an informative historical adventure set in a time when the sun was setting on the pirate way of life. Includes in-depth historical notes. — Jesse Karp
Review in School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up–This is a fine pirate story, with complexities in both plot and cultural issues. With sensitivity to both the political and natural history of Réunion Island (which was called Bourbon Island for some years both before and after the time in which this tale is set), about 600 miles east of Madagascar, it’s a more intellectual than physical adventure. Raphael, apprenticed to a scientist in search of the last dodo, romanticizes the pirate life until he witnesses firsthand the hardships suffered by reformed pirates, Creoles, and other island dwellers subject to corrupt colonial government and repressive social mores. While the story line is itself artful and satisfying, its rendering here, with every character depicted in Trondheim’s hallmark manner as a trait-revealing animal or bird, provides added depth and dimension. American readers will note the full lips of those bears, cats, dogs, and other creatures depicting persons of African descent as perhaps controversial. This is a controversy not to be avoided but to initiate a discussion of how contemporary French writers and artists portray history, a history told in black-and-white comics with no shading of images, although abundant shading of the basic standard pirate plot of good versus evil. Endnotes indicate the reliance on historical documents and facts as the background for this imaginative story.–Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia
Review in December 08 Bulletin of the Center for Children's Literature
Ever since the French governor offered amnesty to pirates who laid down their arms, the denizens of Bourbon Island (off of Madagascar) have settled down into a kind of social stasis – the less domesticable freebooters and a handful of runaway slaves have taken to the highlands in maroon communities, which the French perfunctorily raid from time to time but never clear out. This delicate balance is about to tip as the French governor holds the pirate Buzzard in jail, hoping to wrest from him the secret location of his buried treasure. Maroon pirates, never quite successfully connected with their African brethren, want to mount a rescue mission for Buzzard, but the slaves and freemen are divided over whether supporting the raid is in their best interest. Just at this moment, a Parisian ornithologist arrives in search of the dodo, which hasn’t been sighted for the last ten years. Raphael, the ornithologist’s assistant, is completely beguiled by what he regards are the romance of piracy, and as the naturalists blunder around the island on their quest, they are finally witness to the extinction of both bird and pirate. The plot of this graphic novel is loosely based on actual eighteenth-century events, which are explained in several pages of appended notes. Characters are cast as slightly cartoonist animals, a touch of goofiness that softens the edge of what is actually a quite serious and dramatic rendering of the consolidation of colonial power around the Indian Ocean. The Lust jungle habitat is painstakingly drawn in fine black line, creating an otherwordly hideout for refugees and rebels. Teens who take their pirate tales – and their graphic novels – seriously won’t want to miss this engrossing adventure.