HIGHEST HOUSE #1 by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
HIGHEST HOUSE #1 is a fantastic opening issue, immediately dispelling any notion that Medieval Fantasy is overdone and boring.
93 %
Mysterious Men in Enigmatic Castles

I’m always a fan of good world-building — especially the kind that shows a genuine understanding of real-life history. Created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, IDW’s HIGHEST HOUSE #1 introduces us to a magic-filled land inspired by Medieval Europe. I know what you’re thinking: “That describes almost every fantasy world!” Well, cool your jets, because this is the good stuff.

Lately, I’ve been absorbing a lot of medieval history through podcasts, games, and documentaries. As a history buff, this is nothing new for me. But it’s good to reaffirm just how absolutely awful it was to live back then. For 99% of people, especially peasants, life was a constant struggle to survive, and the division between rich and poor couldn’t get any wider. It’s against that backdrop that HIGHEST HOUSE begins.

Image courtesy of IDW.

Sold for Gold

One day, in a corner of the enigmatic land of Ossanuil, a high-ranking magister comes to a little country town for one purpose: to purchase slaves. As the magister situates himself in the local inn, an off-kilter peasant boy named Moth enjoys an average day of his pastoral life. Soon, the two meet. The tragic twist on this situation is that those selling the slaves are not brigands, slavers, or government officials. They are townspeople selling their own. Some are criminals, but most are the sons and daughters of peasants who could not take care of them. Moth is one of these children. His mother sells him, but few tears are shed on either side. They both understand that Moth has to go in order for the other children to have enough to eat.

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The young protagonist’s acceptance of this loss of freedom says a lot, and his story is just beginning. Those sold into slavery are destined for the majestic castle estate of the Highest House, where a better life may await. Though we all understand slavery to be one of the cruelest things man does to man, there are situations where people use their own enslavement to their advantage. Peasants are practically slaves to their lord already. They must toil daily in harsh conditions just to survive. Working amid the luxury of a noble court can be a step up from the dangers of the untamed countryside. If one has to spend their life doing mind-numbing labor, might as well do it from the safety of a castle. Then again, nobles have the capacity to be more savage and violent than any wolf or disease a peasant has to contend with.

Image courtesy of IDW.

Mysterious Magic

The magister is the agent that drives the story forward. Cael Extat (as we later learn to call him) is the steward of clan Aldercrest. But as of the first issue, it is hard to define what kind of person he is beyond that. While examining the potential slaves, he manages to see some supernatural power inside Moth. This power convinces Cael to purchase the boy despite his lack of skill and strength.

Later on, during the slave march back to the magister’s home, the traveling party is attacked by highwaymen on its way back to the castle. Cael Extat uses his own magic powers to turn them away. The fearful bandits cry out that all the sorcerers had been killed by some people called the “Koviki.” Despite denying having any magic powers, the magister disintegrates some bandits with some blue energy. Suffice it to say, I’m excited to see who this guy really is.

Image courtesy of IDW.

Ancient and Modern Art Combine in HIGHEST HOUSE

In general, the art is really great and does its job reinforcing the setting. The palette generally consists pale whites, browns, and reds. This makes the electric blue of the magister’s magic all the more shocking and otherworldly.

Beyond the effective coloring, the book’s shift in art style for flashbacks was a high point for me. Cael Extat recounts the basic history of the land to Moth using some type of shadow puppetry. This exposition is conveyed in the aesthetic style of ancient Greek black-figure pottery. Not only does this look awesome, it also hints at Greek influences in this otherwise Medieval European civilization. I found that the art style contextualized this fantasy world in relation to our own in a really cool way.

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The issue ends with Moth adjusting to life in the awe-inspiring castle complex of the Highest House, where a roofer claims him and puts him to work making shingles. As far as taskmasters go, this young woman isn’t too bad. Moth has lost his freedom but perhaps gained new opportunities outside of anything the peasant life could give him. After all, the dangers of bandits and wildlife are all but nullified behind the castle walls. On the other hand, not everyone is as welcoming as the roofer.

I can’t wait to see whats in store for Moth. How will he cope with being a slave? What’s the deal with that magister? And what kind of power is in Moth that has him so intrigued? I hope it all gets answered in due time.

One Comment

  1. […] we encounter medieval fantasy comics that explore slavery and child labor with great care. With THE HIGHEST HOUSE TP, writer Mike Carey, artist Peter Gross, and colorist Fabien Alquier explore one boy’s […]


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