Superhero

Webcomic Spotlight: SuperCakes

Cover of SuperCakes chapter labeled "Pancakes," featuring a half-Japanese girl and a redheaded white girl sitting at a table in a kitchen eating pancakes

Title: SuperCakes

Author: Kat Leyh

Genre: Superhero

Trigger Warnings: Nonrealistic violence (e.g. against ice monsters), mild body horror (characters dissolving into liquid/smoke)

Summary:

This comic is a  series of vignettes about super-powered girlfriends, May Ai and Molly LaMarck.

Review:

I found this on a Tumblr list of queer webcomics (which is where I seem to be finding most of my webcomics these days). It’s about two superhero girlfriends and their adventures as superheros and girlfriends. There isn’t really an overarching plot, there’s just a series of short, mostly-unconnected snapshots of their lives – May bringing Molly home for the holidays, for example, and the two of them fighting ice monsters while complaining that the ice prevented their pizza from being delivered.

Like all the webcomics I do in my webcomic spotlights, it’s super short. (At least for now – according to the comments section Kat plans to add more in the future, but as of now it hasn’t been updated since 2014.) And it’s fun and unique. Yeah the girls are superheros and have super powers, but it’s also kind of a slice of life, seeing them interact with each other and other people and complain about forgetting to put away the pancakes when they have to go do superhero stuff.

And it’s neat because sometimes you get epic superhero stuff like this:

Image of a girl in green with a green mask crouched on a fire escape with a girl in red who is partially made of mist flying above her

And sometimes you get cute slice-of-life stuff like this:

Two panels of a comic. The first features two girls lounging on a couch, a reheaded girl we can see clearly and a black-haired girl with her back to you. The redhead says "Ugh, I miss everything!" and the black-haired girl responds, "What? Are you joking? Crazy stuff happens in your lab All. The. Time." The second panel shows the same scene from slightly farther away. The black-haired girl says "Remember the time those alien spores made your cactus a quadruped? And carnivorous?" and the redhead responds, "Haha oh yeah. Killer Cactus Carlos."

Overall, it’s adorable, unique, and fun to read. And I for one am hoping it gets updated soon.

You can read it for free here!

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Romance, Science Fiction

Review: Always Human

Title page for the first chapter of Always Human, featuring a futuristic cityscape in shades of blue

Title: Always Human

Author: Ari

Genre: Science Fiction/Romance

Trigger warnings: Dieting/diet talk

Summary:

This is a story about nanobots, genetic engineering, and two girls falling in love. No matter how technology changes us, we’ll always be human.

Review:

I found this on a list of webcomics on Tumblr, with nothing more about it than “scifi and very gay.” I started reading it because I got bored at work. And then I couldn’t stop.

The short description up there doesn’t tell you a lot about the story. The story is set in a futuristic world where people can live in space, virtual reality is a major thing, and everybody uses “mods” to change their bodies – including appearance, resistance to sickness, and even getting rid of cancer. It starts when Sunati, a recent college graduate and virtual reality engineer meets Austen, a college student with Egan’s Syndrome, an immune disorder that means her body rejects all mods.

And it’s adorable. The romance moves pretty quickly, but even though it’s very romance-oriented, it’s less about the romance and more about the characters.

First, there’s Sunati. She’s a recent college graduate and current virtual reality engineer with dreams of going into space (ideally to Mars), and she tries really, really hard to make everyone around her happy (or at least not be inconvenienced), which I could really relate to. A large part of the story towards the end is her learning that it’s okay to do things for herself sometimes.

Then there’s Austen. She’s in college for genetics – she hopes to cure Egan’s Syndrome so she and other people with the disease can use mods like everybody else – but school is really stressing her out a lot. She also diets (which gets addressed in a very healthy way) and spends a lot of time exercising and studying so she can keep up with people who use mods to help them with those things.

Though both girls have their own individual issues that they deal with, but the bulk of the story is them navigating their relationship, learning to communicate and take the other’s feelings into consideration while still being true to themselves, and building a strong and healthy relationship. It’s emotional and adorable.

It’s also set in an amazing scifi world that I really want to talk about, but also it’s just fun to learn about it as you go. The world itself is beautiful (the art is amazing) and the details – virtual reality games and conversations, lenses like contacts that provide a data interface, the classic visual-displays-hovering-in-front-of-your-face … it’s just great.

And have I mentioned it’s adorable? It’s one of the cutest romances I’ve read in a long time. (And I don’t usually like romance.)

Also, look at this artwork! It’s so cute and happy and gorgeous.

Art of a dark-haired girl and a redheaded girl tearing up with faces close to each other

Art in two boxes - the first box has a blue-haired girl looking into the distance like she's thinking of something happy; the second has a redheaded girl grinning with fuzzy edges like she's the one being thought about

I’m not usually into romance, but this one is great. You can read it online for free here!!!

Urban Fantasy

Review: Labyrinth Lost

Cover of "Labyrinth Lost," featuring gold text on a dark background above the head (from the nose up) of a brown-haired girl in sugar skull makeup
Image from Zoraida Córdova

Title: Labyrinth Lost

Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1

Author: Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Blood

Back Cover:

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone. 

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Review:

I put this on my to-read list because there was magic and I’d heard it was gay. That’s about it. I picked it randomly when reserving books at the library, and when my fiance saw it sitting on the dresser I couldn’t even tell him what it was about. That’s how little expectations I had for this book.

The good news is, this is a great book.

It really was. The magic was amazing, Alex was a strong character with good development and growth, the plot seems straightforward but throws some twists in at the end, Los Lagos is an amazing setting (just as dark and twice as strange as you’d expect, but with a definite Wonderland vibe), and the layers of magic are revealed slowly and wonderfully.

It’s just … a beautiful book, really. It’s the kind of story that if you saw it visually, it would be elegant and graceful and eerie, rendered in dark purples and blacks and silvers. The writing and the mood is gorgeous, and it made me want to go out and practice magic and cast some powerful spells.

I only really had two problems:

  1. It’s never really explained why Alex is afraid of her magic. All you get is something about the family cat being possessed, and her magic kills it? And somehow that made her father leave? It’s not clear.
  2. It wasn’t gay. I was told it was, and I kept expecting a romance between Alex and her friend Rishi. (Maybe there will be in the next book, but there wasn’t here.) But on the bright side, there also wasn’t any romance with Angsty Brooding Hero Nova, either.

I feel like breaking it down and analyzing the components of it will ruin the magic. It was just … fascinating and absolutely gorgeous. And it ended on a twist. I’m totally looking forward to the next book (next year …).

The Brooklyn Brujas series:

  1. Labyrinth Lost
  2. Circle Unbroken (April 2018)
Fantasy

Webcomic Spotlight: The Tea Dragon Society

Cover of The Tea Dragon Society, featuring a small blue dragon sitting on a teapot surrounded by flowers

Title: The Tea Dragon Society

Author: Katie O’Neill

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: None

Summary:

The Tea Dragon Society follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons.

Review:

I discovered this because the author also wrote “Princess Princess,” which I spotlighted in my last webcomic spotlight. I decided to try this one because of how much I loved “Princess Princess.”

All of the characters are some sort of fantasy creatures (Greta has horns, Minette has antlers, and Hesekiel looks more like a goat than a human) and the art is so whimsical.

Four characters having a picnic with tiny dragons
See, look how cute this is!

The story is character-driven – Greta, who is enthusiastically learning about tea dragons; Minette and her memory problems, and the backstory of Hesekiel and Eric (and learning how Eric became disabled). Watching the friendship between Greta and Minette develop is adorable. And it’s just generally sweet and cute.

Also, it’s short – only 46 pages – so if you need a quick dose of cute happiness this is the perfect thing to read.

You can read it for free here!

Fantasy

Webcomic Spotlight: Princess Princess

Cover of Princess Princess, featuring a black princess in military dress and a blonde princess in a blue dress with a puffy skirt
Image from Strangely Katie

Title: Princess Princess

Author: Katie O’Neill

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: None

Summary:

Amira and Sadie are two very different princesses who decide to take their happily ever after into their own hands.

Review:

This webcomic is really short (44 pages), so I decided to make this more of a spotlight than a full review. Because I just can’t not tell you guys about it.

The best parts:

The art is adorable and the character designs are awesome.

Seriously, just look at these two.

The plot is absolutely amazing and there’s a happy ending.

It’s hilarious.

It subverts all the tropes in the most amazing way possible.

And it’s short, so you can devour it in less than half an hour. So seriously take a moment to read this. It is 500% gay, 5,000% adorable, and 50,000% worth the read.

You can read it for free here!

Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction

Review: The Edge of the Abyss

Cover of "The Edge of the Abyss," featuring a girl dressed in black standing on the seashore with massive read octopus tentacles rising from the surf
Image from Emily Skrutskie

Title: The Edge of the Abyss

Author: Emily Skrutskie

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Science Fiction

Trigger Warnings: Blood/gore, violence between sea monsters

WARNING: This book is a sequel and this review contains spoilers of The Abyss Surrounds Us!

Back Cover:

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Case dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and threatening the ocean’s ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

Review:

This is one of the best emotional roller coasters I’ve been on in YEARS.

So I loved loved loved The Abyss Surrounds Us, and as soon as I finished reading it I immediately reserved this book at the library.

It never made it out of the library. I had a break between work and yoga, sat down in a chair, and devoured the entire book in a single 1.5 hour sitting. I couldn’t put it down and really didn’t want to.

You get more of the great characters in this book, including some backstories and more about Swift’s history. Also some of Cas’s family towards the end. But most of what you get is Cas and Swift and their relationship, which is a beautiful, complicated mess and a total emotional roller coaster. Ups, downs, love, hurt … so many emotions. It was so raw and real and vivid and I loved the way it wrenched my heart around.

We also get a lot more about pirates in this book. How they work, who they are … even meeting a lot more of them. And it’s interesting, because they’re all scheming and piratey, but none of them seem quite as ruthless as Santa Elena. (And as a bonus, you get to learn a lot about pirate politics, which there is apparently a lot of.)

There is a plot, and a really good one – other set-free Reckoners like Bao are destroying the ocean’s ecosystem – but it takes a bit of a backseat to Cas’s emotional turmoil and her messy relationship with Swift and the reoccurring ethical conundrum of working for and with pirates. But the emotional plot and the plot plot blend nicely, and even though emotions are the focus, it doesn’t overwhelm the sea monster plot.

The only thing I wasn’t 100% a fan of was the final battle. Yeah, it was epic and there were sea monsters and stuff, but in my opinion it wasn’t quite as epic as the ending of book one. Don’t take me the wrong way, it was still pretty darn epic. The Abyss Surrounds Us just set a really high bar that The Edge of the Abyss didn’t quite meet. The ending after the final battle, though, makes up for it.

Overall, this was a great book and an amazing series. This review really isn’t doing this book justice. I loved it. It pulled my heart out and played with it and it’s one of the best books overall I’ve read in a while. I’m just sad this is the end of the series. Logically, I know it’s a good ending, but still. I wish there was more!

The Abyss Surrounds Us Series:

Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction

Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us

Cover of "The Abyss Surrounds Us," featuring an Asian girl standing on the deck of a ship with the giant eye of a sea monster behind her
Image from Emily Skrutskie

Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us

Author: Emily Skrutskie

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Science Fiction

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood/gore

Back Cover:

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. Shes been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the giant, genetically engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup and teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Review:

I first heard of this as a lesbian book recommendation on Tumblr and immediately reserved it at the library because heck yes scifi lesbians! I’m always complaining about there not being enough gays in speculative fiction. But anyway.

For some reason I thought this was set in space. Not sure how I got that idea. It was a little disorientating at first, because I’m expecting space and getting ocean, but once I got a couple chapters in I was hooked.

The Abyss Surrounds Us has everything I look for in a book.

The Characters: Fascinating! Cas is the protagonist, an East Asian girl from San Francisco who is just getting ready to take her place in the family business – which happens to be raising and training sea monsters. It’s pretty darn epic. Then there’s Swift, the pirate girl assigned to watch Cas while she’s training the pirate’s monster, who’s part badass and a tiny bit sweet and mostly just making the best of some crappy circumstances. Both girls have great character arcs, the romantic tension is obvious but built slowly, and you get cool minor characters in the pirates … it’s just awesome.

The Setting: So this is after a lot of global warming and stuff and the oceans have risen to ridiculous levels, countries have splintered into smaller countries, (hence why I put “post-apocalyptic” as a genre on this) and pirates run so rampant the only way legitimate ships could protect themselves is by genetically engineering sea monsters. It’s a great concept. The pirate ship that most of the story happens on is a combination of old-fashioned pirate-y stuff and modern technology, and there’s even a brief excursion to a floating pirate city which is also really cool. It’s just fantastic.

The Plot: The plot is really quickly paced, which I loved. It follows Cas, and starts with “what’s wrong with my Reckoner,” then moves into “survive the pirates/train the pirates’ monster enough that he looks trained/don’t actually train the monster because I don’t want to help the pirates because they’re evil.” But then she begins to wonder if they’re really so evil. And she starts getting to know (and kinda like) Swift. And what starts off so simply – survive the pirates, don’t help them, get home – suddenly gets super complicated with ethics and emotions and things.

The End: Holy crap, the end. An epic battle that made me feel Epic Battle Feelings that I haven’t gotten from a book in a long time. A twist I probably should have seen coming but didn’t. Romance that I did see coming but was still really happy about. And it wrapped up nicely while still leaving room for a sequel. There were no cliffhangers, just the confident knowledge that you’ll want to spend another book in this world with these characters. And I do.

One thing I will say about it, though, is it is pretty violent. (Hence the trigger warnings.) Some people do die, one death is described in somewhat graphic detail (even though Cas is disgusted by it), and there’s quite a bit of carnage in the final battle. So just be aware of that if that kind of thing bothers you.

If I have any complaints, it’s that the book was too short. (It’s less than 300 pages, which is short to me, and it feels shorter than it is.) But it’s paced perfectly, so I really shouldn’t complain. It was a fantastic book, and I’m super excited there’s a book two. Now, pardon me while I go reserve that one at the library …

(As a side note: If you’re a fan, you really should check out Emily Skrutskie on Tumblr.)

The Abyss Surrounds Us series:

  1. The Abyss Surrounds Us
  2. The Edge of the Abyss
Historical Fantasy

Review: Silver Phoenix

Cover of "Silver Phoenix," featuring an East Asian girl in a pink kimono
Image from Cindy Pon

Title: Silver Phoenix

Series: Phoenix #1

Author: Cindy Pon

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Back Cover:

No one wants Ai Ling. Deep down, she is relieved – despite the dishonor she has brought on her family – to be unbetrothed and free, not some stranger’s bride banished to the inner quarters. But now, something is after her. Something horrible. And as pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to realize that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams isn’t only a quest to find her father, but a venture with stakes higher than she could imagine. Just as she will need the mysterious power growing within her, she will also need help. On a quest of his own, Chen Yong offers that help…and perhaps more.

Review:

I think it must have been the Chinese class I just started that convinced me to pick up this book, because I can’t think of another reason. The title caught my interest a while ago (Silver Phoenix was my screen name at one point), but it just didn’t sound all that interesting to me until I found myself checking it out from the library.

Ai Ling was interesting. From what I know of ancient Chinese culture (and admittedly, I don’t know much), she seemed a little more brave and independent than I would have expected. I liked her, but it seemed like she didn’t exactly fit the story.

Chen Yong I also liked. He was sweet and supportive and a dang good fighter, and I enjoyed him and the tentative maybe-romance between him and Ai Ling. I didn’t love him, though, kind of because he was really private. It seemed like everything Ai Ling learned about him she learned secondhand.

Li Rong, Chen Yong’s younger brother, was actually my favorite character. He was a flirt and a goofball with a fabulous sense of humor – one of those guys who will make you laugh no matter the situation. It made me sad that he was in so little of the book.

The plot seemed a little disjointed at times for me. Ai Ling’s betrothal goes south, and her father doesn’t return from a trip. So she leaves to go find her father, but keeps getting attacked by evil things. It isn’t until over halfway through the book when Ai Ling discovers what’s really going on and why she actually came on the journey. Some of it felt a little predestined-ish to me, which seemed like a cop-out at times. It was good, but not fantastic.

I loved seeing lots of Chinese magic and mythology. The plot hinged on reincarnation, which I couldn’t completely suspend my disbelief over, but I loved discovering the Chinese take on gods and mythical creatures and heaven and other mythological stuff.

Apparently, there is a sequel, Fury of the Phoenix, which I did not know about until I explored Cindy Pon’s website. I do not think I will read it. Silver Phoenix was good, not great. I did enjoy the story, but I have no desire to continue.

The Phoenix series:

  1. Silver Phoenix
  2. Fury of the Phoenix