Bird Boy Volume 1: The Sword of Mali Mani by Anne Szabla. Dark Horse, 2016. 88 pages.
Members of the Nuru tribe hunt eshe near the forest but they never go in. Rook Men live in the forest, and the river tribes fear the trees — the Rook Men hunt people, and take those who go into the forest.
Bali is small, and he wants to learn throw a spear. But he always brings disaster when he goes on a hunt. He accidentally throws his spear into the forest. When he goes in to retrieve it, he finds it’s not cold and snowy inside, but warm. He happens upon an ancient city that people once lived in, and within it he finds the sword of the legendary hero Mali Mani, who fought the Rook Men and returned light to the world. It is a weapon that is supposed to have the power to drive the Rook Men away forever. Unfortunately Bali also stumbles upon its guardian, a giant forest bear.
Szabla’s art is magnificent. The Nuru tribespeople’s masks recall designs of Pacific Northwest tribes’, and the birds and animals shown throughout reflect the same design sense and make it seem as if the masks are truly the people’s faces. The Rook Men are freaky, but not too scary to take this out of the all-ages category. It belongs in every public and school library.
I can’t wait to read Bird Boy Volume 2: The Liminal Wood, which came out in September.