Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Aster's Magic (2 vols.) by Thom Pico and Karensac

Today I have two books to talk about - or perhaps four if you're French, or a traditionalist.

I don't know if this series has an official name - the main character is Aster in the US edition, and I believe Aubepine in the original French, so my assumption is that it would be named after her. (And a quick google leads me to believe that "Aubepine" actually means "Hawthorn," so I can see why the US edition didn't translate the name of a schoolgirl to make her sound like a tweedy middle-aged professor.)

Also, as an aside, it looks like she's named "Olivia" in the Spanish translation. So there's clearly a vegetative connection, but no urgency to keep her name super-consistent.

Aster - I'll call her that, since I'm American, and read the English-language translation - is maybe ten, maybe not even that old. She's smart and self-directed and energetic and very much less than happy that her family just moved from the (unnamed) big city out far into the countryside - and even less happy when her parents admit that this is a permanent move, not temporary. Her mother is some kind of world-class expert on robots and/or birds, and has moved here because one particular species of very large, very aggressive birds are about to migrate, which usually causes mass destruction but which she thinks she can mitigate.

But Aster is a city kid, and thinks this rural landscape will be terminally boring. Her parents urge her to get out into nature and do stuff, but she's reluctant; that's never been what she's been interested in..

Now let me remind you of the last word in both titles: magic. This valley is full of it, for reasons that will become clearer as the series goes on. In the first book, Aster quickly runs into a trickster spirit, named Rapscallion a little too much on the nose, and has the usual three-wishes shenanigans there. The next three books add more depth and build out a quirky but consistent mythology of this place, complete with avatars of the four seasons, hundreds of years of history, and a backstory for Monsieur Rapscallion. [1]

So Aster quickly finds she does have things to do in this valley, all kinds of adventures with the magic there and, of course, saving the valley and/or world roughly once per book.

There may be more books, since the ending teases a move somewhere else where there may be a different kind of magic, but this story is complete in these two (or four) books. Aster and the Accidental Magic is first - take note of that; I got the second one first by accident - and has two sections, ""Aster Makes Some Poorly Thought-Out Wishes" and "Aster Gets a Magical Fox Exceedingly Upset," which correspond to the original French albums Aubepine 1: Le genie saligaud and Aubepine 2: Le renard furax. The second US book is Aster and the Mixed-Up Magic, containing "All's Well That Ends Wool" (Aubepine 3: Pourquoi tant de laine?) and "The End of Everything (and What Happened Next)" (Aubepine 4: La fin du tout (et du reste)).

And it's all just good fantasy adventure, designed for young readers but perfectly acceptable for somewhat older ones, in a crisp and cartoony Eurocomics style. The characterizations are fun, the situations are exciting without being scary for the young audience, and Aster is a great heroine and central character to navigate it all. The creators are Thom Pico (writing) and Karensac (art), neither of whose work I was familiar with before this. (That may be because this was their first comics work - the bios say that specifically about Karensac, but Pico may have done other comics of some kind.)

It is mostly for younger readers, but it's also zippy fantasy Eurocomics: if you're looking to scratch that itch with something simpler and nicer than Dungeon, Aster is out there waiting for you.

[1] No one ever calls him Monsieur Rapscallion at any point, nor would they.

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