Review of Rise of the Halfling King

Rise of the Halfling King [Tales of the Feathered Serpent]
by David Bowles; illus. by Charlene Bowles
Intermediate, Middle School    Cinco Puntos    64 pp.    g
10/20    Paper ed.  978-1-947627-37-6    $12.95
e-book ed.  978-1-947627-38-3    $12.95

In this series starter, David Bowles, author of 2018’s Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico, adapts a tale from that anthology for the graphic novel form. This volume focuses on the classic legend of Sayam — the Halfling (part-human, part-alux) king of Uxmal, the ancient city of Late Classic Mayan civilization. Raised and trained by the wise healer and medicine woman Almah, Sayam is destined to overthrow Kinich Kak Ek, Uxmal’s despotic king, whose tyrannical rule has wrought disharmony across the realm, driving aluxes, witches, and the healing arts of magic underground. Throughout, Bowles highlights Mayan writing and storytelling systems, embedding references to Mayan philosophy and ethics in a thrilling, fast-moving plot that sees Sayam fulfill the prophecy of his reign. Charlene Bowles’s illustrations match the pacing and cadence of the narrative with varying yet well-­organized panels that build robust ­characters and convey emotions. In particular, Sayam’s growing maturity, leadership, and sense of duty to his people are depicted through relatable simplicity of expression and peaceful equilibrium achieved by the cool teal-blue palette. A directory of characters precedes the story, and a concluding author’s note about the aesthetics of graphic art in Mayan writing traditions articulates the importance of perpetuating Mayan epistemology and culture in modern-day storytelling.

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Lettycia Terrones

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