Book Review Archive: Marco Polo: Dangers and Visions

This review was originally published in School Library Journal’s July 2017 issue.

Marco Polo: Dangers and Visions by Marco Tabilio

Gr 7 & Up—Framed by the story of how Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa wrote the famed travelogue while they were imprisoned in Genoa, this title is the latest take on the oft-adapted Il Milione, or The Travels of Marco Polo. A teenage Marco joins his merchant father and uncle, Niccolo and Maffeo Polo, as they traverse the Silk Road on a three-year journey to Khanbaliq (known today as Beijing). Once there, Marco befriends Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan) and serves a variety of roles at the Great Khan’s court for nearly 20 years before returning to a much-changed Europe. This book is a historical record, a coming-of-age tale, and a musing on storytelling and storytellers. Rustichello’s writing process is an apt vehicle for that commentary; he considers Marco his protagonist and is shown adding a three-headed dragon to the narrative while Marco is feverish, as that is what the European audience would expect from a work about the Far East. Tabilio’s dynamic illustrations have a distinctly medieval style and include the occasional grotesque image, e.g., skeletal monsters or a detailed map of the divisions of the Mongol empire in the shape of Genghis Khan’s dismantled body. However, these painstakingly intricate visuals, though attractive, may be hard on the eye. Many readers will find it difficult to become immersed in this volume, but it’s an effective introduction to the explorer, especially compared with more typical biographies. Back matter includes a straightforward account of Marco Polo’s life and a glossary of terms. 

VERDICT Useful as a supplemental text in art, history, geography, or literature classrooms, and recommended as an additional purchase for large graphic novel collections.—Kacy Helwick, New Orleans Public Library [Copyright 2017 School Library Journal.]