This is another book I found at my local library, and another book that I liked so much that I purchased my own copy.
This the story of Akari, a girl who travels from Earth to a terra-formed Mars to become an "undine", a tour guide who rows a gondola. The story takes place in Neo-Venezia, a canal city just like Venice on Earth. Going forwards, I'll be using the terms that the book uses for the planets, "Manhome" for Earth and "Aqua" for "Mars".
This is a charming slice-of-life story. Its chapters show particular days of Akari's life as she trains to become a full-fledged Undine. She lives and works with her mentor, Alicia, in the Aria company office. The two of them have a darling relationship, the mature and graceful elder guiding the innocent and earnest junior. Watching them interact brings a small smile to my face.
The third major character is Akari's counterpart from a sister undine company, Aika. I thought that she was going to be Akari's rival, or maybe some antagonist that causes trouble for her and Aria company, but I was wrong. They quickly become friends and then have a cute relationship as fellow undine apprentices (although it does start off because Aika hero-worships/is infatuated with Akari's mentor). As apprentices around the same age, they have a different relationship than Akari has with her mentor, more like equals who can relate on the same level.
Some of the chapters focus on Akari's training, such as the lessons she has with Alicia or independent practice with Aika. These chapters go into the typical life of an undine apprentice. Others focus on life on Aqua in general, such as "Aqua Alta", a seasonal flooding where the water level increases and the city shuts down until it decreases. As I read these chapters, I got a sense of a theme, Romanticism vs Enlightenment.
On Manhome, life has become very neat, tidy and convenient. Many jobs can be done from home, and shopping is more often done from home than not. Akari mentions a "beautification" process going on in cities, which I assume means artificially making them more appealing to the eye. Then she mentions that "something is missing" from such a neat and tidy life.
Life on Manhome is contrasted with life on Aqua, which is more....rustic, so to speak.
To go anywhere in Neo-Venezia requires rowing a gondola, which a postman calls inconvenient but also "strangely relaxing". Rowing to higher elevations requires elevators created by changing water levels instead of something mechanical. It takes longer but also provides time to rest from rowing. Things like this create a slower pace of life than Manhome but the mode of life is simultaneously more active.
Furthermore, there is a difference in technology between the two planets.
While both Manhome and Aqua use levitating stations in the lower atmosphere to control the weather of their planet, the stations on Mahome are automated, run by computers that maintain a perpetually pleasant climate. The stations on Aqua are manual, run by humans known as "salamanders", and so the weather has more variation to it than Mahome. Akari meets one of these salamanders, who sheepishly apologizes for the late summer months being so hot and humid, and asks her to consider it part of Aqua's charm. Indeed, I think that is the point.
Aqua's situation is more natural than Manhome's, despite being terra-formed. Rowing a gondola may be inconvenient, but with a lovely and skilled undine at the helm, it can be more than just transportation. Events like the Aqua Alta can be inconvenient, but it creates variation in daily life that can lead to unexpected and memorable events. Even the hot summers give rise to cultural events, like the Night Light Bell Fair.
The art is beautiful. From the simple scenes of domestic life in Aria company, to the double-page spreads of Neo-Venezia, you will want to linger on the pages to take it all in. The pace of the story and arrangement of the panels creates anticipation for these special views.
All this together makes for a calm and soothing read. It is a perfect book to read in bed. At the same time, the nostalgia it invokes can be a little painful, as Akari herself experiences in one chapter.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Aria volume 1 masterpiece edition" an A+
Click here for my previous book review: Rising of the Shield Hero - manga volume 2
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.