Unaware that she’s at the center of a prophecy, Aella has a lot of catching up to do, and fast — the Church of the First Light have made up their minds and would rather see her dead than risk the return of Xir.
Self-assured world building and magic collide to make ‘Sea Serpent’s Heir’ Book One: “Pirate’s Daughter” a memorable start to Mairghread Scott and Pablo Tunica’s new series.
If you ever wondered what it looks like to capture a relationship in two panels, that’s exactly what Mairghread Scott and Pablo Tunica have done on chapter one, page one of their new graphic novel series, Sea Serpent’s Heir. Book two has already been announced for next year, but there’s a reason book one has the subtitle, “Pirate’s Daughter.” Aella’s relationship with her mother is integral to the story. It’s also why Aella is caught completely off guard when the Church of the First Light sail into her “boring” seaside town and reveal that everything she thought she knew was a lie.
“This is how I picture her, you know. / My mother. / The back of her head as she abandons me again.”
When you don’t know better, this reads gravely serious, so when Aella gets smacked a moment later there’s an immediate recalibration of tone, but even if Aella is being melodramatic, it doesn’t dampen the impact of Tunica’s image, which sends home what a sad statement this is.
Even from behind, Aella’s mom is cool. She’s exactly what you’d expect a pirate queen to look like, but having a cool mom only goes so far if she’s always away at sea and promising to take Aella with her, only to sail off again.
As a one-two punch of image and words, Scott and Tunica manage to validate Aella’s feelings while also calling her out as being prone to exaggeration. These are messy characters, and it’s because Scott and Tunica are so in sync that they’re able to give them so many layers.
Another great moment is when Aella is fishing and realizes the fish she’s caught is too big to take in. Given her immaturity about some things, it’s a pleasant surprise when she lets the fish go without hesitation. Aella can make smart choices. The problem is her mother has been keeping her in the dark, so she hasn’t had many opportunities to prove herself.
When the truth does come out, it turns out Aella is part of a prophecy, and the Church of the First Light are demon hunters with a kill first, ask questions later policy. Their sudden interest in Aella, then, is very concerning, especially since Aella is still catching up on all the lies.
Scott and Tunica do an amazing job at world building in this first book and creating options for themselves, in terms of setting up groups that might never appear again or could become vitally important in a future volume. They also reveal the existence of magic slowly, so it feels both organic and unexpected when Aella is able to heal herself with a charm.
All of the character designs and colors feel cohesive, too, in terms of maintaining the series’ oceanic aesthetic. Aella’s sidekick is a dog-sized hermit crab named Nix, whose shell looks like a hood. Other characters wear shell masks and shell armor. Aella’s mom casually has an octopus sitting in her hat later on in the story.
If there’s one thing holding Sea Serpent’s Heir back from a perfect score, it’s the prologue, which begins with one of Aella’s dreams. Instead of adding to the story, it felt like a hurdle I had to get past when I first started the book, due to how difficult it was to tell who was speaking, and how much Aella could hear. Thanks to the strength of Ariana Maher’s letters, it’s a scene you can reread and start to feel more confident about. At least it’s always clear when a different character is speaking, but as an opening scene it’s overly frustrating.
Sea Serpent’s Heir Book 1 is available now from Skybound Comet and Image Comics.