Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"What are you?"
"One of the old powers. Though only the Lady is allowed to call herself a god these days."
"But... you're magic?"
"Magic is only a word. But yes, if you like."
"And you'll do anything I ask?"
"Anything. If you'll swear to free me after."
"I want my sister's eyes not to close over."
"I want to know things. All the things in Magister Extat's books."
"And I want all the slaves to be free."
"Ah, now you meddle with matters much too big for you."
"You said anything!"
"I did. But..."
"Well that's what I want!"
"Very well. I do not yet know how, but we will do this thing. Now kneel. Kneel and make my sign, as I taught you. You are mine, Moth. I am yours. And oh, what great mischief we will make together."
Oh so cleverly crafted, slightly fantastical fiction, gorgeously illustrated with flourishes of Baroque brilliance, that is right up there with the likes of MONSTRESS, ISOLA, HEATHEN and BY CHANCE OR BY PROVIDENCE. Here is the scurrilous scroll from the scribes' slave masters to tell us more...
"To be born a slave is in fact not a fatality. And facts can be changed. In the country of Ossaniul, there is a fortress that is as disproportionate as it is inaccessible: the Highest House. Its masters, the noble family of Aldercrest, reign over a veritable army of slaves. At the bottom of the ladder, young Moth performs the most thankless tasks and has little hope of living past childhood. Until the day he meets Obsidian, a mysterious prisoner of the House who whispers to him in his sleep. If Moth does what he asks, Obsidian will give him fortune and glory. And there's every indication that Obsidian can make good on his promises. Will Moth accept the offer?
Through a subtle alternate history, The Highest House takes us to a fictional country reminiscent of the Balkan kingdoms of the 16th century. Mike Carey and Peter Gross (LUCIFER / THE UNWRITTEN) draw from this context a captivating fantasy narrative that reflects on the human soul, the corrupting power of slavery, and the inequalities of class, all from the different perspectives of the House's many inhabitants. Both immediate and timeless, Highest House is a multifaceted fantasy sure to stay with readers long after the final page has turned."
Except... this is merely part one!! Well, that's what the final page says... This was always billed as a six-issue series, collected here in an album-sized extravaganza, reuniting the creative team of Mike Carey and Peter Gross. I must also mention cover artist Yuko Shimizu, who did all the fabulous covers for this work and also over 70 similarly amazing covers for THE UNWRITTEN.
As a complete aside I have just learnt the mildly amazing fact that Shimizu's roommate when she began graduate studies at the prestigious New York School of Visual Arts was a certain James Jean, who of course did one bazillion FABLES covers that were all collected in their own swanky FABLES: THE COMPLETE COVERS book!
But, back to the Highest House... Young Moth, sold into servitude to the mysterious Magister Extat, and thus by extension, the House of Aldercrest, one of the richest families in the land who currently occupy the Highest House, is on a mission. Several in fact, including freedom from slavery and to achieve that he will need the help of the mysterious being locked deep in the recesses of the House. A being with a very different sort of liberation in mind...
I really don't want to give too much more away other than to say this is a very intricately and elaborately constructed story from Mike Carey, much like the House itself as rendered by Peter Gross, which is where my Baroque comment above comes from. There are some fabulous spreads of the sprawling house with its myriad towers, battlements, courtyards and of course the requisite secret passages and hidden rooms...
Very possibly the finest magical fantasy I have read this year (though clearly Tillie Walden's ON A SUNBEAM trumps everything in pure fantasy terms). I seriously hope there is going to be a second volume.