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LION'S GAME by Kevin W. Brown


Masters of Mali

by Kevin W. Brown illustrated by Moc Thy

Pub Date: Dec. 12th, 2023
ISBN: 9798988182801
Publisher: Black Sands Entertainment

The descendant of a murdered Mali king seeks revenge in Brown’s historical graphic novel series opener.

In the year 1300, the king (or Mansa) of the Mali Empire is betrayed by the rival Keita clan; they attack, and only the king’s daughter, the princess Yafa, and her newborn survive the massacre. She escapes the capital city of Niani swearing revenge. Roughly 120 years later, the young assassin Diata, Yafa’s descendant, arrives in Timbuktu seeking a route to Niani to exact vengeance. The Keita clan have maintained control of the empire amidst power shifts amid the ruling castes of Mali society, but their current leader, Foamed, believes that concentrating power within the warrior (Ton-tigi) and noble castes (Horon) impedes society. He has called for a national tournament to determine the next Sankar Zouma, a prestigious military position, and has opened it to men of any caste, including the artisans (Nyamakala) and the enslaved (Jonow). Diata convinces his family to let him compete, despite being only 19 years old. His name translates to “lion,” and, while his powers aren't explained, he possesses the strength, hyper-senses, and reflexes of his namesake. Illustrator Thy uses a manga comic style to render the rich visual world of 15th-century Mali with distinctive character designs and dynamic, bloody fight scenes. Brown orchestrates many moving pieces and creates opportunities for the brash and stoic Diata to grow throughout the series, even inserting humorous beats (“Watch out for the vipers tonight. They can get pretty aggressive around this time of year”) in the brisk, high-stakes plot. The work depicts many cultural and societal norms that are at times hard to keep track of, but breaks in the chapters provide more context, and Brown avoids overloading his dialogue with exposition. With many viable warriors in the mix, the tournament—and the empire’s future—is anyone’s game.

An intriguing, confident first entry in what promises to be a riveting historical series.