Book review: Asterix and the Picts, by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 8:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 8:49am

Asterix and the Picts
by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad
(translated by Anthea Bell)
Orion Books
4 stars

Ian Rankin

Asterix the Gaul has fought the Romans and the Goths, participated in the Olympics and discovered America - but his most fraught adventure came in 2005, when he appeared to jump the shark. The original author of the Asterix stories, Rene Goscinny, had died in 1977, leaving artist Albert Uderzo to take over writing duties. Asterix and the Falling Sky was not a success, which perhaps explains why it has taken eight years for another adventure to appear, this time with a new creative team replacing Uderzo.

In fact, there is a poignancy to the cover illustration of Asterix and the Picts, with Uderzo drawing Obelix and his successor Didier Conrad portraying Asterix: Obelix is tossing a caber as his friend smiles and winks while gesturing with a thumb, as though the franchise is thanking Uderzo and attempting to reassure him that his legacy is in safe hands.

Luckily, for long-time fans, this proves largely to be the case. Writer Jean-Yves Ferri goes back to basics, with a story that sends the two heroes out on an adventure to foreign lands where danger lurks and wrongs wait to be righted.

A Pictish warrior, MacAroon, is washed ashore in a block of ice and needs to be thawed out. His speech has been affected, but his manly charms (and dashing kilt) soon attract female admirers, much to the displeasure of the menfolk of the village.

Asterix and Obelix are charged with escorting him home, rescuing his beloved Camomilla from the clutches of the evil MacCabaeus, and installing MacAroon as king. Along the way, they encounter pirates, meet Nessie (an ancestor of the Loch Ness monster), and thwart a Roman plan for the conquest of Caledonia.

Anthea Bell, who has been translating the Asterix books into English since the 1960s, works hard to maintain the nuances of the original French wordplay, although a few apparent non sequiturs creep in, but the energy and vibrant colours carry the reader from panel to panel without hardship.

Guardian News & Media