Easy: Buy this book.
It’s only $10.
“Wait a minute”, you say… “This is not even a language learning book, it looks like a comic strip and it’s not even in French, how would it be the best way to learn French?”.
First of all, this is one of the best stories I have read in a book, novel or comic. The scenario starts very conventionally and slowly drives you into directions that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Consider this book as an introduction to “Bandes Dessinées”, a very important part of French culture that children and adults enjoy throughout their life. “Bande dessinées” (usually referred to as “BD” in France) literally means “drawn strip” but “comic strip” is close enough. However, it’s very different from the comic strips that you are used to if you live in the US.
Not only are the BD’s a very fertile ground for countless artists but writers sometimes dedicate their entire career to BD’s over novels. That’s how strong the phenomenon is in France.
So what makes this book so special?
First of all, the story is from Jean Van Hamme, one of the most inventive story writers that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. To me, he sits right there with the likes of Alastair Reynolds, Peter Hamilton, J.K. Rowling, Robert Ludlum and Dan Simmons. You will find him as the prolific author of many other series, but I find this one to be really his masterpiece.
“The Master of the Mountains” is part of the Thorgal series. It’s book number fifteen in the series, but since very few of them were translated in English, it has a different number in English. Fortunately, you don’t need to have read the previous books to enjoy this particular book, but it’s an exception more than a rule: Van Hamme is the master of plots that span over dozens of books and not only does Thorgal deliver compelling and imaginative stories, it also hinges over a common story arc that is slowly revealed book after book. This is not your standard viking war story.
I’m going to resist the urge of dropping even the slightest hint about what “The Master of the Mountain” is about. The less you know about it when you turn to the first page, the more you’ll enjoy it.
Once you’re done with this book, I am betting that your appetite will be whetted and you will want to know more about Thorgal, French bandes dessinées and, hopefully, French language itself. Maybe you will be tempted to buy the French version of this album, even though it’s a bit more expensive ($25) and start learning French by comparing the two side by side.
Once you are done with Thorgal (there are 31 books so far, the next one will be out in November), you will probably want to start looking at the XIII series, that Van Hamme authored as well, and which tells the tale of someone who wakes up one day having forgotten everything about his past and trying to piece it together with the only piece of information that he has: the number “XIII” tatooed on his neck (if this sounds familiar to you, it does use the same premise as the Bourne series, but it quickly goes into very different territory).