French anthro comic: L’Epée d’Ardenois – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

L’Épée d’Ardenois. T. 3/4, Nymelle, by Étienne Willem.
Geneva, Switzerland, Éditions Paquet, February 2014, hardbound €13,50 (48 pages).

downloadThis is part of Lex Nakashima’s & my project to bring American furry fans the best of new French-language animalière bandes dessinées. Volumes 1 and 2 of this 4-volume series were reviewed on Flayrah on April 29, 2013. Here is volume 3, Nymelle.

The warfare in the Medieval funny-animal realm of the three kingdoms has devolved into bloody chaos. Garen (rabbit), the young peasant boy who hero-worships the legendary Companions of the Dawn — four unstoppable knights who led the three kingdoms of Bohan, Herbeutagne, and Valdor against the demonic armies of wizard-king Lord Nuhy a generation ago, then retired – is eager to see them reunite when Nuhy’s army reappears under his “eternal captain”, Hellequin of the Cursed Wood (goat). But the Companions are old and out of training today, and Sir Godefroid (hound), who is Garen’s personal hero among the Companions, is carefully killed by Hellequin before he relaunches the war. The other Companions dubiously accept Garen as their squire to honor Godefroid’s memory, but they are all shocked to find that the three kingdoms of today are not what they were a generation ago. Then, they were three monarchies united by strong rulers working together. Now, they are three separate monarchies each under weak rulers who do not even have the support of all their own nobility and knights, and who are jockeying for leadership among themselves – divisions that Hellequin skillfully encourages. Hellequin is supposedly trying to find and collect the Black Armor of Nuhy, which was divided among the victors after Nuhy’s death in battle. Some believe that this is just Hellequin’s pretext to use Nuhy’s name and armies for his own benefit, while others believe that Nuhy had real demonic powers, and that he will be resurrected if Hellequin does find all of his Black Armor. There are more complications, and volume 2, The Prophecy, ends with Garen, the other three Companions of the Dawn (Sir Grimbert, fox; Lord Arthus, bear; and La Fouine, marten), and the peasant refugees left behind the Wall of Ambrosius where they are supposed to be safe, suddenly attacked by Skernovite pirate raiders led by their King Rothgard the Bald (hawk) and Hellequin’s lieutenant Sigwald the Rash (bull terrier).

Incidentally, author/artist Willem has said in interviews that The Sword of Ardenois is his homage to all of the Medieval-setting talking-animal fantasies that have influenced him; notably the medieval Roman de Renard, the Disney 1973 anthropomorphic-animal Robin Hood animated film, and Brian Jacques’ Redwall novels. The Sword of Ardenois is more complex and grim than any of them.

As volume 3 begins, Garen seethes at not being taken seriously. (I’M ALMOST GROWN UP!”) The Kingdom of Bohan, the leader in the past war against Lord Nuhy, is now under King Tancred the Younger (lynx), son of the recently deceased Tancred the Elder. Nobody knows whether he is the strong leader that his father was, and it looks like they will not give him time to prove himself. The current ruler of Valdor, Count-Bishop Egbert (vulture), refuses to join a new alliance against Nuhy, trusting more in Valdor’s strong fortifications for safety. Wolf (wolf), the son of Valdor’s former lord who fled to Bohan’s court after his father was overthrown by Egbert, offers Tancred Valdor’s support if Tancred will support him against Egbert. Tancred is tempted, but is aware that the last thing he needs is to get involved in a civil war in Valdor while Nuhy’s armies under Hellequin are invading. Welcome to the world of 12th-14th-century European court politics.

The warriors in Fort de la Lanterne behind the Wall of Ambrosius decide to venture past the Wall to the defense of Bohan’s capital of Oddenburg, under the leadership of Lord Arthus. It looks like Garen will finally get to fight. But Arthus sends him to safety again! He orders Garen to “protect” ancient Maugus the wizard (owl), who is going on a “secret mission” out of trouble. Nobody suspects that he has a real secret mission that Maugus believes that nobody knows about, but that Hellebore and his dark magic is personally waiting for him – and Garen. To be concluded in volume 4, Nuhy.

Yarst! I can’t figure any way to mention Dame Nymelle (deer), whom this volume is named after, without giving away major spoilers. She is very important to the plot, though.

L’Epée d’Ardenois is excellent in both its artwork and its feel of the genuine complexity of Medieval politics. In fact, that may be one reason why it hasn’t been translated into English yet; not that it is too difficult to translate, but that its convoluted politics are too Machiavellian for a “funny animal comic book”. The series is very highly recommended, for furry fans and for fans of the real politics of the Age of Knights.

As with volumes 1 & 2, volume 3 is offered in two editions; the finished, full-color edition, and a pencil-sketch (crayonnée) edition of Willem’s uncolored line art. The crayonnée edition is €25.00, limited to 1,300 numbered copies. The cover features La Fouine.

– Fred Patten