Josiah Bancroft's Senlin Ascends (2013)

Senlin AscendsSenlin is the headmaster of a one-room schoolhouse in a small town. He's spent his life teaching children all the basics of the world, without ever really experiencing it himself. When, almost despite himself, he marries the capricious Marya, they agree to expand their horizons with one great big adventure. Senlin calculates his budget, buys the tickets, studies the guidebook and the two head off to the greatest wonder of the world: The Tower of Babel.

Once at the Tower, however, Senlin finds that all his learning is for naught. The guidebook seems, at best, misleading, and the Tower and its outskirts are far more chaotic and more dangerous than he ever expected. And, worst of all, Marya goes missing. One moment she's there, the next, she's gone. Senlin's too disciplined to panic, so he goes about his search in an orderly way - only to discover that the Tower of Babel is not an orderly place.

Senlin's quest takes him up through the Tower, encountering rogues and bureaucrats, petty lords and magically-enhanced assassins. There's a floor that's completely devoted to a single, mediocre one-act play. There's another overrun by giant snails and mechanical beer fountains. Yet another is devoted to Bourgeois leisure - all hot baths, fine wine and poor sea-side art, until you run out of money... Each new region of the Tower is a kingdom unto itself, with new laws, a new culture, new friends, new foes and an infinity of obstacles. 

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B.T. Narro's Kin of Kings (2015)

Kin of KingsBasen is the nephew of the dead king of Tenred, who was (whilst alive) the most hated man in the world. Despite their shared surname, however, Basen is firmly on team Good. He and his father were exiled before the last war, and have spent their last few years scrounging out a living in the (enemy) kingdom of Kyrro. No home to go to; no future ahead of them.

Basen, however, has some tricks up his sleeve.

Trained as both a swordsman and a mage (the perks of a royal upbringing), when the famed Academy opens up new students, Basen sees this as an opportunity. Although his father is insistent that Basen try out as a warrior, Basen sells the family sword and buys a wand instead. Despite the wand-seller giving him a faulty article, Basen still astounds the examiners and gets accepted.

Basen also makes the first of his many new friends - the healer Alabell. Alabell and Basen feel an immediate frisson, and bond over Alabell's Academy stories, Basen's sordid family history and the fact that Alabell too is related to royalty.

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Richard Crawford's Traitor Blade (2011)

Traitor BladeThe kingdom of Valderon is suffering through a dangerous time. The king's son and heir, Prince Arnaud, is sickly. Although married, it seems that a child is unlikely.

The next in line is the King's nephew - Charles, the eldest son of his estranged brother, Rupert. Although the King and his brother are not open enemies, they're far from friends. Rupert, and his province of Chamfort, are loyal to Valderon, so he treads carefully. He doesn't want to incite a civil war; Valderon already has enough enemies. But the King's unreasonable demands put pressure on Chamfort and Rupert's family, driving them apart.

One of the pawns in this great game is Edouard, Rupert's second son, and Charles' younger brother. Brave, impetuous and incredibly skilled with the sword, Edouard chafes at the restraints that Charles and his father have placed upon him. He wants to be a knight, a champion, a commander of men - to ride free, to smite evil, to achieve honour and glory and greatness. Edouard's talent and his courage make him a favourite at court. His cousin, the Prince, adores him, and the King's greatest general, St Andre, admires him.

If Edouard can only stay out of trouble, he may just achieve his dreams. 

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One Comic: Out and Proud!

Princess Princess Ever After

Let's face it - it's been a grim week in the LGBT world (and indeed, everywhere), so it feels more important than ever to acknowledge and celebrate our sexual and gender diversity. So...

Happy Pride Month! To mark the occasion, and to reflect its queer sensibilities, Oni Press has published its first Pride Spectacular; three extracts from its LGBTQ-focused titles, including previews of two new series. So how do Merry Men, Wet Moon and Princess Princess Ever After hold up as queer stories, as comics in general, and as reasons to have Pride?

And by way of celebrating the radical act of living openly - this episode's 3-and-1 is a delve into 'comic book coming out', with a particular focus on some times it was done well.

This show is dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Orlando shooting, and to the countless other LGBT victims of violence across the world.

Equality Florida has set up a GoFundMe page for the victims, 100% of the proceeds goes to the victims and their families.

Other vetted national and local charities can be found here, including The Trevor Project


K.M. Carroll's Malevolent (2015)

9k="I met Mal the day he tried to kill my boyfriend."

And with that, Malevolent begins.

The 'I' is Libby. She's a high school senior, but not a very active one. Stricken with 'Valley Fever', she's virtually bedridden: even on the good days, she's worried about ranging too far - her mysterious ailment could strike at any time. 

Malevolent opens on one of those good days. She's feeling fairly strong, plus, the beekeepers are in town. Libby's family has an almond farm. The annual visit of the beekeepers and their pollinating bug-friends is not only important to the farm's success, but it is also a lot of fun to watch.

This year is especially fun, as there's an enigmatic stranger in the mix. This newcomer works with unnatural speed, and has a connection with his bees that seems almost magical. His strength, speed and pallor all combine to make Libby think - jokingly - that this newcomer, Mal, is a vampire. (awkward cough)

 

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Alessandra Clarke's Rider's Revenge (2015)

Rider's RevengeAnd we're off! I'm participating in this year's SPFBO - a competition that pits 300(!) self-published fantasy novels against one another in search of ULTIMATE GLORY. This site is one of the 10 sites reviewing and judging the books.

My task is to sift through 30 of the entries. I've already cut 24 of the 30 (details on those books here). This week, I'll be reviewing my final six, using a version of our DGLA criteria. Only one will go on the final round!

<cue dramatic intro music>

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K'lrsa is a Rider of the White Horse Tribe. She's young, but her skills on horseback and in combat - as well as her dauntless courage - have made her a fully fledged warrior of her tribe. Her father, the leader of the tribe, is immensely proud, even as her mother wishes she would settle down.

There are minor dramas, certainly - an overly-ardent admirer, disconcerting rumours involving trade routes - but K'lrsa loves her home and her family, even as she seeks further opportunities to prove herself... and all of this is swept away when disaster strikes.

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Nerd is the New Black: Spider-Gwen

Spidergwen_by_tayeedwards-d8qi983(Artwork by Taye Edwards)

If you're even sort of comics-adjacent these days you've probably heard of Spider-Gwen. At the very least you've seen something Spider-Gwen and gone, I don't know what that is, but it's awesome. Spider-Gwen has reinvigorated the comics market in an amazing way. Like Deadpool before her, anytime she's on a cover the comic sells out.

But Spider-Gwen doesn't just look cool, she is cool. In an alternate timeline, Gwen Stacey (you know, the way more awesome girlfriend than Mary Jane? The best part of The Amazing Spider-Man? The character who died horribly to give Peter Parker feels?) gets bitten by a radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker and develops spider powers. And then she is EVEN MORE AWESOME.

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The Manhattan Projects; or, ‘These Ain’t Your Momma’s Physicists’

Manhattan_projects_4The Manhattan Project was a now legendary U.S. military programme responsible for the creation of the atom bomb, operating between 1939 and 1946. The scientists that worked for the project have become legendary figures in their own right; Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, Enrico Fermi to name just a few. Regardless of the moral implications of what came out of it, the Manhattan Project was an undeniably impressive feat of science and a major step forward in the human understanding of physics.

Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra and Jordie Bellaire take this incredible human achievement and add in murder, cults, corruption, sex, drugs and the most kick-ass Albert Einstein you’re ever like to see. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Manhattan Projects.

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