The Highest House #1
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist and Letterer: Peter Gross
Colorist: Fabien Alquier
Review by Michael Farris, Jr.
Mike Carey and Peter Gross, the creative team behind The Unwritten, take us to the land of Ossaniul with their new fantasy graphic series The Highest House. We follow the recently-sold-into-slavery Moth, a young boy from a poor family who was bought by the mysterious sorcerer (?) Magister Extat and brought to the even more enigmatic titular Highest House. During the journey, Magister Extat tests the abilities of Moth that only he seems to have any indication of what it means while telling him of his destiny at Highest House. At his arrival, Moth is claimed and assigned his mundane duty as a roofer, but the secrets within the house are only just beginning to reveal themselves to the young Moth.
For such a promising creative team and premise, this book was a little difficult to get into. The pace from the very beginning was sluggish, and it never really picks up as the story progresses. You can tell that Carey put a lot of thought and creativity into the background and the rules of this particular universe, but one particular scene where Extat is giving Moth a history lesson, the amount of names and places and whatnot feels like information overload that is hard to follow. At one point, during an arguably lengthy explanation of the process of roofing, Moth’s instructor asks him, “You think you got all that?” His response is a hearty, “No!” I felt like this reading the book, too.
At the same time, it does seem like there are glimpses of what this story could be. Magister Extat is a dark and mysterious enough character, we’ve only scratched the surface of what Moth’s abilities are, and the very last page of the book introduced another aspect to the whole story that finally seems like it’s going to start moving things along—but like I said, it’s the very last page. It was difficult to maintain interest along the way.
As for the art, this was one of the brighter spots of the book for me. Sure, some of the characters looked pretty Disney-ish, but I was impressed by the overall detail in the world that Gross has given us. The two-page spread of Highest House made me want to explore it. And the morose coloring throughout the story makes it feel as if a storm is brewing on a late autumn day, which definitely sets the tone for the story.
Verdict: Wait and see.
It’s so hard for me to write this one off outright primarily because of the creative team. And, as I previously noted, there were definitely glimpses of a powerful story in The Highest House #1 that tried to make their way through a sleepy beginning. I’m not one to shy away from high fantasy, but there were times that it felt Carey built this house a little too high.