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Bourbon Island 1730 Paperback – October 28, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
This eccentric but illuminating historical drama draws on the peculiar realities of the end of the golden age of maritime piracy (and its intersection 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. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From School Library Journal
Grade 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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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I think the source of the resistance was that both Lewis Trondheim's drawing and Appollo's story are rather loose. The novel shifts from quotidian semi-comic scenes to the heavy history of slavery, piracy and colonialism to dreamlike panel sequences of the island's scenery. This all happens with great fluidity, which is sometimes very lyrical and charming, and at other times may seem rather arbitrary. As a former working cartoonist, I tend to downgrade loose drawing as an indicator of lack of craft - looseness often being the sign of an indulgent creator who thinks her message is independent of the form in which it's packaged. Not in this case, though.
Here, it feels more more like the aftermath of a rather whimsical and inspired collaboration between writer and artist, The end result being a kind of romance that's enriched by the real history and geography but doesn't worry too much about getting things exactly right. And, it certainly doesn't try to put forth a social, historical or political thesis. The plot moves along, but it's not the main thing. Sub-plots open and close without necessarily going anywhere, but without much harm. It's more about mood and feel, and the sometimes casual drawing isn't a serious drawback. Besides, the draftsmanship is often quite lovely. I love the cover, the spot drawings, the chapter titles and many of the humanized animal characterizations. There's no doubt that Trondheim, unlike tyro artists, could have tightened it up if he'd wanted to... But, a certain kind of artist would rather establish a flow than obsess over the perfect form. Often these artists create a volume of work that stuns their more constipated brethren. I was reminded a bit of Craig Thompson's first graphic novel "Good-bye, Chunky Rice", which also used animal characters in a quirky and lyrical plot with great charm. Thompson is without question a *flow* type of artist who thinks visually rather than in terms of linear plot - his 2nd. novel is 600 pages long! Perhaps, Trondheim, too, is an artist who creates work intuitively, guided by visual ideas, rather than someone who works step by step beginning with the writing.
Bourbon Island also reminds me of the mini-comics of the 1980s, those pre-web, creative improvisations that creators were mailing all over creation. However, rarely if ever did minicomics deliver at this level. At their best, in works like Steve Willis' epic "Morty the Dog" (which Bourbon Island's style somewhat resembles) they hinted at this kind of improvisational riff on a theme.
At the start of Bourbon Island I was scratching my head and wondering if I liked it. By the end, there was no question that I did...
Surely not the readers of BOURBON ISLAND 1730, which comes to us courtesy of two French comics creators. Appollo (actually, Olivier Appollodorus) and Lewis Trondheim (also a pseudonym; this time for Laurent Chabosy) collaborated on this story of the sea. They know what they're doing here, and they're determined to have fun with it, raking in action and suspense of the swashbuckling variety unapologetically. Using animals to star in the story doesn't hurt either. It may seem surprising, but it never devolves into cute-animal-story territory. That's a wonderful thing.
BOURBON ISLAND 1730 takes place at the time when piracy is giving way to ongoing colonialism. The marauding ways of the sea are no longer in vogue, at least not for most. But that's not the case for Raphael Pommery, an assistant to ornithologist Dr. Despentes. Both have come to a small island off the coast of Madagascar to document the fauna there, but Pommery is caught up in a daydream about pirate life. It's a pirate's life for him, if he has anything to say about it.
Sure enough, he does. Soon, the book is swimming in tales of outrageous acts and hidden treasure, and Pommery, like the reader, is dazzled. Appollo and Trondheim make it easy to fall in love with this story. They take it seriously enough to imbue it with so much fun that it's hard to resist.
Still, BOURBON ISLAND 1730 transcends any particular genre boundaries. It features some mild language (a "hell" here or there, and the "S" word) that keeps it from strictly fitting into the confines of kids' literature, but it's suitable for older children. The elaborate nature of the artwork --- never cartoony --- is probably enough to ensure the book appeals to older readers anyway. It doesn't look like typical animal books do.
Like every good pirate story, it owes much to Robert Louis Stevenson's TREASURE ISLAND. The popular pirate motifs abound here, as does the overarching theme of human morality. Amid a changing world, the characters here try to determine their place based not so much on what's right and what's wrong but on how the world at large is changing permanently.
The teamup of Appollo and Trondheim has created some buzz, with a lot of readers anxious to see what these two turn out. Those people are in for a treat, because BOURBON ISLAND 1730 is something unexpected, and as respectful as it is to the genre it celebrates, it still manages to tread into new territory. For most American readers, though, it will probably be some kind of unknown surprise, a new take on an old saw. Both groups will be able to have some fun here.
--- Reviewed by John Hogan
Bourbon Island is a superior literary/illustrated tale of pirates long pardoned pondering the release of their old mate, Buzzard by a major show of force. Ornithologists in pursuit of the last Dodo, join the adventure as a treasure(of course) lay in hiding at St Hyacnith. The cast of Dr Despenthes, Raphael, Buzard,Roboert De La Huche, Virginia, Laverdure, Evangleine, Rapier,Ravolson,Captain Dhermitte, and the elusive dodo jump off the pages into your imagination.
Apollo and Trondheim have created a delightful waltz through pirate life (sort of). On the colony, as former pirates have taken up settling the island growing coffee, word of hanging Buzzard unifies them.
Entertaining and lively exchanges between pirates, ex pirates, and slaves make this a must read.
I love the art of Lewis Trondheim. It reminds me of Sergio Aragones on speed! I looked, but I did not see Groo anywhere!