It would be inappropriate to describe B. Mure’s Ismyre series of books as indie comics’ best kept secret. The first two volumes have been consistently critically acclaimed, after all, with multiple positive reviews across the world of comics commentary. But this is one of those ongoing projects that deserves far more buzz around it. Mure combines both careful world-building with self-contained storytelling; the links and the narrative throughline are there for anyone looking for them but, importantly, each story can be enjoyed on its own terms. It’s the most delicate line to tread but Mure manages it once again in the latest instalment, The Tower in the Sea, which locks more pieces into the wider history of this realm but also provides a compelling character study in its own right.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series to date, Mure has created a mystical fantasy environment of anthropomorphic animals. Its often allegorical themes, though, speak to the reader on a far more contemporary level. In The Tower in the Sea we are first introduced in flashback to the titular location; a building on a remote island where a group of magic-users practice the long neglected art of divination, out of favour in the outside world due to the displeasure of a former monarch. Here, in this school for its study, a secret group have been keeping divining alive for a hinted-at greater good. Among the inhabitants of the island is student Miriam (who has spent most of her young life there), the head August Humble and teacher Madame Cornelia. Miriam is haunted by visions of the future that she believes are showing her the end of the world. But, isolated from the rest of civilisation on this offshore outpost, how can she take the chilling message of her visions to the people across the water and avert disaster?
Mure’s ability to manipulate the pacing of his pages to mirror mood is measured and highly effective. A slower, incremental sequencing emphasises the more introspective moments to atmospheric effect but he also creates an intense feeling of place by zooming out into one-page shots that underline the remoteness and comparative solitude of the island. Every panel feels like a window into a bustling world that threatens to spill out of the confines of its borders and into ours, with tone so ably amplified by those studied colour choices.
There are old faces and nods to the overarching narrative in The Tower in the Sea but this entry in the series can still be enjoyed as a discrete entity in its own right. It’s intriguing how the relationship between the three Ismyre books now means that – depending on our perspective and where they sit within the narrative timeline – they act as sequel/prequel/prologue to one another. Indeed for longer term readers The Tower in the Sea both sets up and answers elements of the wider storyline.
For a book that spends a significant amount of time on the study of a precognitive discipline that is so esoteric in its practice it’s fascinating to see how compelling the depiction of the divining arts is here. When it comes to stories about young wizards learning their craft and working together to face a greater menace you need look no further than The Tower in the Sea. There’s something very special building up in the Ismyre books and more than a growing suspicion that we are seeing a truly classic comic series emerging here.
B. Mure (W/A) • Avery Hill Publishing, £8.99
Review by Andy Oliver
The Tower in the Sea launches tonight (Friday October 4th) at London’s Gosh! Comics. Full details here.