What a vast and welcome improvement on the tepid first volume! In fairness, that compliment applies strictly to the story, as Pablo Tunica’s art has been excellent from the very beginning. His illustrations are as consistently kinetic and majestic and grotesque as the sea and its inhabitants, truly leaning in to the weird, hardscrabble nature of this fantasy pirate-oriented setting.
My main beef with Book One was how irritating the main character Aella was, and how her family had done nothing to prepare her for the risks of growing up. You don’t protect a child by giving her none of the tools she’ll need to survive as an adult, y’all. In Book One, Aella was basically a spoiled, sheltered ninny who was easy prey for the Church Of The First Light when they finally found her. Good thing she has monstrous powers! By the end of the book, she’d managed to escape their clutches, but at a terrible cost.
Book Two: Black Wave opens with Aella grieving the death of the Queen Of Mercy, even as her mother’s lieutenants worry about keeping their defenses afloat and Aella herself protected. The demon sea serpent Xir goads Aella into seeking revenge, but Aella refuses… until the issue is forced upon her by an attack of assassins from the Empty Court. In order to avoid death — both her own and her beloved crew’s — Aella must embrace the demon inside her.
While her lieutenants see the attack as a threat, Aella and Xir see it as an invitation. Swiftly, they forge alliances with the three other major powers of their realm in a united front against the Church. So what if the current ruler of the Empty Court is demanding a price that probably should not be paid?
When a raid against a vital resupply point for the Church uncovers game-changing information, Aella and her trusted advisors must make a desperate foray deep into enemy territory to recover perhaps the greatest prize of all. But Bash, the Church squire who betrayed her, is also on his way to the same place, and is about to undergo a terrifying ordeal which will test his faith even more than coming face-to-face with Aella once again.
This was a rollicking, twist-filled installment of the series that definitely made up for the first volume’s whinging. I appreciated Aella’s evolution from ridiculous child to somewhat self-aware leader (even if I do think it’s silly that a pirate nation would basically enforce a monarchy instead of a meritocracy.) I did wish that more of Aella and Xir’s friendship had been shown on the page, as it was a surprise to me when Xir claimed that Aella had been kind to him: I’d seen little evidence of that leading up to that point! But I also get the feeling that these stories are based on a set of assumptions that I’m old enough to not take for granted, if not outright question. And that’s fine! Every storyteller’s journey is different, and I’m only glad that this series has made significant improvements to provide readers like myself with something far more entertaining to read than infuriating.
Sea Serpent’s Heir, Book Two: Black Wave by Mairghread Scott & Pablo Túnica was published September 12 2023 by Image Comics and is available from all good booksellers, including