Phil Tucker's The Path of Flames (2016)

Path of FlamesThe Path of Flames knows how to start with a bang. Or in this case, a cavalry charge.

Thousands of knights, the finest in the land, are pelting madly up a hill. For added excitement, they're preceded by a wave of half-tame ogrish monsters, their shock troops. The defenders, dark wizards amongst them, rain black fire down on their attackers. The attacking line breaks, and the battle dissolves into chaos and slaughter.

Caught in the middle? Asho, a humble squire, who, over the course of a few (very) busy pages suddenly finds himself back-to-back with some of the most decorated knights in the realm. His heroism in the first few chapters brings him unexpected rewards - and exposes him to dangerous secrets.

Asho's is merely one point of view in this cinderblock-sized epic. He returns from the front to Kyferin Castle, to serve the widow of his fallen lord. Iskra's relationship with her belligerent (and now deceased) husband was always strained, but ruling the Castle and its lands is a hefty challenge. The other, rapacious lords are circling, and with the war in the background, Iskra is left with nowhere to turn for help.

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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