Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lives a witch named Alba Salix. She's the head of the House of Healing, and oversees all the medical clinics in the Kingdom of Farloria. Alba is joined by her assistant, a fairy named Holly. She's the chief herbalist at the House of Healing. Recently, the House of Healing has also taken on a former monk named Magnus. He's providing public service in lieu of a debt he owes. There's plenty of laughs and fun times to be had as the House of Healing team handles a new case each episode.
I'd seen Alba Salix recommended a few times in the "you may also like" section of my Apple podcast app. However, what finally convinced me to give it a try was a promo I listened to. It played at the end of an episode of We Fix Space Junk I was listening to. Alba Salix, Royal Physician and We Fix Space Junk are both part of the Fable and Folly network of podcasts. It is the same network that Harlem Queen is part of. The promo sounded promising, but what really won me over was the theme music. It is a combination of Medieval-style flutes and modern electric guitars. Snippets of the theme music are used for scene transitions. It perfectly encapsulates the style that Alba Salix goes for; a stereotypical fairytale setting, but with modern humor and sensibilities. Also, the theme music sounds completely awesome. If only we had an extended version of it.
So, I figured, even if I didn't like the show, at least I'd get to listen to the awesome theme music. I gave it a try, genuinely enjoyed the episodes, and now here we are. You guys know my thing about how I prefer non-British accents in fantasy audio dramas. Well, Alba Salix is the first to give me Canadian accents in a fantasy setting. The production team is based in Toronto. I should add they don't sound stereotypically Canadian, except for Holly at times, but they don't sound British, and that is a net positive. Not that I'm completely opposed to British people on fantasy settings, but I find British accents to be over represented in fantasy. I feel that, at times, fantasy fiction is a bit like 19th Century India: it suffers an excess of British people.
As you might have gathered, Alba Salix is a sitcom in a stereotypical fairytale world. And you might also recall my love of the Shrek movies, which took a similar approach to their setting. So, that was another point in favor of Alba Salix. There are plenty of nods and references to classic fairytales and fairytale adaptations. For example, while on an ingredient run gone wrong, Holly comes across a cottage full of three bowls of porridge. One is too hot, one is too cold, and one is just right. Naturally, said cottage is owned by a family of three bears. In other episode, cute little animals offer tips to help Magnus with his chores. However, he blows them off repeatedly, and they get miffed. So, when he finally gives in and asks for help, they give him deliberately bad advice to teach him a lesson.
Now, let's talk about the characters. We'll start with the title character herself. Alba is one of the only people in Farloria with more than a few atoms of common sense and rationality. As such, she plays the straight woman to the antics of Holly, Magnus, Queen Parabel, and pretty much everyone else in Farloria. She's cynical, grouchy, and snarky. But considering what she has to put up with on a daily basis, it isn't hard to see why. Still, despite it all, it is clear that, deep down, she does genuinely care about Holly and Magnus. You don't often see older female characters playing major roles in fantasy fiction, and Alba is a nice change of pace. Despite Alba being the title character, there were times it felt that Magnus and Holly were the true focus of the show. Though, I suppose that's a side effect of Alba serving as the voice of reason. Magnus and Holly can screw-up more easily than she can. Alba is voiced by Barbara Clifford.
Also, Alba's name is a bit of a pun. Salix alba is the scientific name for white willow. Its bark contains salicylic acid, which can be used to make aspirin.
Holly is a fairy who serves as the herbal specialist at the House of Healing. She's almost perpetually cheery, sunny, and happy-go-lucky. It's always really cute when she gets excited and says "Yay!" Holly likes to sing while she works, and is always eager to help out, but has a tendency to be a bit of scatterbrain. For example, she loves to cook, but believes that the most important part of cooking his having fun, rather than following recipes and directions. This line of thinking once resulted in a batch of cookies that caused everyone who ate them to sprout tails. Holly also has terrible handwriting, which causes issues with labeling ingredients. But hey, at least bad handwriting is expected in the medical profession. About the only thing that can truly rattle Holly is the fear that she might be a bad fairy. Thankfully, Alba always assures her that she's a good fairy.
Holly is voiced by Olivia Jon. Personally, I hope we'll learn how Holly came to work for Alba at some point. Holly definitely doesn't seem like someone Alba would seek out of her own volition.
Magnus used to be a monk at the Dragon Mountain Monastery. Unfortunately, due to a martial arts performance gone horribly wrong, he incurred quite a bit of debt. So, he's working for Alba as a form of community service. Magnus has a tendency to slack-off, and otherwise shirk his chores and assignments. He also isn't above scamming the patients in order to make quick money. He wants to learn magic, but has a rather cavalier towards safety and rules. Naturally, he tends to butt heads with Alba. Still, though she wouldn't be quick to admit it, deep down Alba does care about Magnus. It is hinted that Alba sees a lot of herself in Magnus. Magnus has a sort of brother-sister relationship with Holly. They argue and squabble, as siblings are want to do, but the chips are down they're there for each other. Magnus is voiced by Julian Sark.
Parabel is Queen of Farloria and is also Alba's younger sister. Many years ago, King Gunther was turned into a goat by a curse. Three sisters came to the kingdom in hopes of breaking the curse. Alba was the oldest sister, and tried to use a spell, but it didn't work. Parabel was able to break the curse with true loves kiss. As such, King Gunther promptly married her once he became human again. True, Alba missed her shot at being queen, but she doesn't strike me as type who would enjoy that sort of lifestyle. And hey, she got to be head of the House of Healing. Like most siblings, they tend to bicker, and don't always see eye-to-eye. Parabel's royal decrees often given Alba no end of headaches. For example, at one point Parabel orders that the all gardens within sight of the palace be uprooted and filled with nice looking flowers. This included the herb garden at the House of Healing. Alba and the gang need those herbs to make potions and healing salves. Parabel is voiced by Marisa King.
Not much to say about King Gunther. He seems like a reasonably nice guy; if a bit too indulgent of Parabel at times. He is voiced by Geroge Bertwell, who also voiced the badgers from the time Holly and Magnus had to go to Badger Town. That was especially funny. The badgers all sounded like Mr. Meeseeks from Rick and Morty, and it made me laugh.
In season two, Alba and company have to put up with Antalia Pearcey. She's in charge of overseeing all magical things and practitioners in the kingdom. As such, she imposes some very strict regulations on the House of Healing. Alba and the gang constantly chafe under these regulations, but to be fair, Mrs. Pearcey did have a point about the House of Healing being disorganized, and that the jars needing better labels, and that making Magnus sleep in the old tool shed was a bit much. Actually, she raised a lot of good points, but seeing Alba and company trying to comply with the regulations made for good episodes. Antalia is voiced by Elaine O'Neal.
There is a series of mini-episodes that take place between seasons one and two. They're meant to help hold everyone over while season three is in production. They're really fun little vignettes that provide some amusing (mis)adventures for the characters. I particularly liked the one where Magnus and Holly had to collect dragon tears by going to a dragon opera. They had to deal with stuff well-to-do dragons who considered them riff-raff. Another fun one is where Holly finds a pigeon, which she believes to be a person turned into a pigeon, and is determined to do whatever to take to help it. That one was written, and featured a guest appearance, by Beth Crane of We Fix Space Junk. From this, we must conclude that Alba Salix actually takes place in the world of We Fix Space Junk. Well, actually not really, but they are both members of Fable and Folly. But I'm just saying, we have seen a couple pseudo-medieval planets in We Fix Space Junk.
There is another series set in the same world as Alba Salix, Royal Physician. It is called The Axe and Crown, and can be found in the same podcast feed Alba Salix is found in. The Axe and Crown follows a troll named Gubbin who owns a tavern, really more of a dive bar, named The Axe and Crown in the run-down part of town. Business is, if not exactly booming, then reasonably well. But the times they are a changing. The Axe and Crown has a new landlord named Stan. He's the son of the deceased former landlord, and is very excited to be part of The Axe and Crown, much to Gubbin's dismay. Before long, Gubbin's niece Betula comes to town to work for the black-market guild. Together, the three of them work together to keep their heads above water, and keep The Axe and Crown from going out of business.
Each season of The Axe and Crown is set between season of Alba Salix. They usually have twice as many episodes as Alba Salix, but the episodes are only half as long, so it evens out. Much of the comedy comes from the contrast between Gubbin and Stan's personalities, and general outlook on life. Gubbin is an almost stereotypical surly bar owner. He's cynical, sarcastic, and places an emphasis on practicality, and sticking with the way things have been. One of the biggest contrasts between Gubbin and most dive bar owners is that he is gay. His ex-boyfriend Johann used to be the head chef at The Axe and Crown, but then he cheated on Gubbin and run off to work at another pub. Gubbin was so heartbroken he boarded up the kitchen door for many years afterwards.
Stan, by contrast, is a wide-eyed idealist with a generally sunny disposition. He's kind of like one of those sheltered rich liberals who want to change the world, but don't have much in the way of real-world experience. He fraud toy gets knocked on his ass, literally and metaphorically, but always manages to dust himself off and get back up.
Betula is a bit like Gubbin, but with better social skills, and maybe not quite as cynical. Stan thinks she's the most beautiful woman he's ever met. Gubbin thinks Stan is nuts, well, more so than usual, but it is soon hinted that Betula returns Stan's feelings. Betula wants to try her hand at cooking. She's pretty good at making traditional troll foods. Unfortunately, troll food isn't exactly edible by human standards. But hey, at least she's learning and getting better.
As much as they can get on each other's nerves, at the end of the day, all three members of The Axe and Crown genuinely do care about each other. One of the biggest challenges facing The Axe and Crown is that a Bucket Pub has moved in across the street. They're a pub chain whose names are always something plus bucket; Badger and Bucket, Unicorn and Bucket, Walrus and Bucket, etc. They have many things that Stan is envious of, such as outdoor patios, brunch service, and designer craft beers. Many episodes of The Axe and Crown involve our main trio trying to outwit the Bucket Pub, or else take them down a peg.
The theme music for The Axe and Crown isn't quite as catchy as the theme music for Alba Salix, but it did grow on me with time. It involves a lot of snare drums and horn. It's unpolished and rough around the edge, just like the titular pub.
So, there you have it. Alba Salix, Royal Physician and The Axe and Crown, are fun and funny fairytale sitcoms. Don't wait around like I did, go give them both a listen today. They are well worth your time.
Well, I think that should do it from me for now. I will see you guys next time.