Aerial Magic is an on-going secondary universe fantasy webtoon by Walkingnorth. I reviewed their Always Human here. Chapter one covers the first twenty-five episodes.
Wisteria Kemp is determined to earn her way into the Aerial Guild, the professional association that regulates aerial magic. The conventional path to membership (at least in modern times) is through university. Having learned the hard way that she is ill-suited for the classroom, Wisteria chooses a more traditional course: an apprenticeship.
Wisteria sends out four hundred applications for an apprentice position. She gets a single positive response, from Master Cecily Moon. Wisteria is invited to work at Moon’s broomstick repair shop in the vast metropolis of Vecrum.
Convinced failure is assured, Wisteria takes with her only her avian familiar Puppy and a small supply of clothing.
Wisteria has magical talents and a burning desire to cultivate them. What she does not have is any way to learn by reading, because she is incurably text-blind. Even though Puppy can read to her, she is at a considerable disadvantage in a school environment. Not to mention the matter of a few mishaps and explosions. Wisteria’s high school profs thought her a hopeless case.
Moon takes a very different point of view: She sees the potential in Wisteria. The challenge is to find some method of unlocking it that won’t be hobbled by Wisteria’s inability to read. To this end, Moon sets Wisteria two tasks: shadow Moon in her shop (where she can learn by observation) and repair various magical objects (where she can learn by trial and error).
Moon does not require that Wisteria succeed, only that she try her best. Wisteria, however, is fiercely determined to succeed and falls prey to self-hatred whenever she fails. At anything. Even at tasks for which she could not possibly have sufficient training or experience. Whenever she meets or exceeds expectations, she dismisses her wins as mere chance. Way to go Wisteria! This is the very best way to maximize anxiety, stress, and self-loathing!
Much to her surprise, Wisteria is not sent home after the ten-day trial period. Slowly slowly she discovers she is living and working in a supportive environment. She can even make friends! This is not at all what she expected. Indeed, she finds herself confronted with a new challenge: what will she do if she succeeds?
If you are the sort of person who is uncomfortable when other people exude moisture from their lacrimal glands in copious quantities … be warned that it doesn’t take much to make Wisteria cry. A little sadness will do. So will unexpected happiness. How wretched her previous experiences (and previous teachers) must have been that even a little praise will reduce her to tears.
Its not clear why Wisteria has alexia (not dyslexia; it’s worse than that). That’s not important to the plot; what is important that she has a handicap that no amount of grit, determination, and training will overcome. This reminded me of the Walkingnorth webtoon previously reviewed, Always Human , in which one of the protagonists cannot use the mods that everyone else uses with abandon.
Which brings me to the magical fix for her disability: the familiar who can read to her. The author makes it clear that this fix doesn’t make the problem go away. Notes are not nearly as useful for her as they are for people for whom reading is effortless1. Speech isn’t as fast or as silent as reading and her familiar isn’t always available to read to her.
Gadgets and software, real world or magical, cannot entirely erase handicaps. Indeed, everything has a cost. One of Wisteria’s co-worker cannot walk but he can float in the air. That’s great, but floating consumesresources he cannot use for other activities2. Persons of a techbroish bent might think gadgets and software can remove the need for consideration, which I suppose in its way is a kind of handicap.
If you’re expecting the common fantasy fare (Dark Lords, Secrets Humanity Was Not Meant to Know, and the Fate of the World Hanging in the Balance) this is not the series for you. It’s about a sensible world filled with reasonable people who don’t care all that much about other people’s romances or appearances or beliefs. There’s not even one pointless war grinding on and on.
Well, that part is fantasy.
This coming of age story is, at least thus far, about having to deal with unexpected success, something for which the protagonist has NO coping mechanisms. The drama is very low-key, although effective. The story is driven by (horrified gasp) character development. I’d recommend this webtoon to anyone looking for interesting stories that don’t resort to melodramatic tropes. In fact, I would recommend it, full stop.
Aerial Magic is available here.
1: Note to self: do not summon easily affronted familiars whose services may not be available because the familiar took offence at the ways some birds were looking at it and flew off to admonish said birds.
2: Presumably, though, he is really good at levitating.