The Shades of Magic series is a three-part fantasy epic that spans multiple dimensions that helped to secure V.E. Schwab’s as a fantastic writer. Despite filling three huge books and hundreds of pages it always felt like the series was just the beginning of something so much bigger thanks to how real the worlds felt, how ancient and lived in their cultures were. Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince explores the history of one of these worlds in greater detail, giving readers a chance to know one of the novels main characters, King Maxim.
Set decades before the events of the books, the comic follows a younger Maxim, when he was still just the prince of Arnes. Chided by his father for his obsession with finding people with the skills and magic required to open doorways between the four worlds Maxim is sent away from Red London to port city of Verose, a place teeming with violence and lawlessness.
Already something of a skilled fighter and soldier, though somewhat untested, Maxim and Isra, one of the city’s royal guard, are forced to become a team as they work together to combat one of the greatest threats to the city, the evil Pirate Queen Arisa.
The worlds of Shades of Magic were well established in the books, with a very clear sense of how the worlds differed from each other, and what made each one unique. Despite this, readers rarely saw beyond the borders of the four Londons, as such the setting of Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince feels new and exciting, with Verose a character itself.
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The city feels dark and dirty, with small streets and looming buildings. In only a short time there it’s easy to get a sense of how dangerous a place it is, with Maxim being attacked almost immediately upon arriving. The city is filled with dark alleys, crime filled taverns, and spired buildings, creating a patchwork of locations that lend themselves well to almost any kind of action or intrigue V.E. Schwab would want to include. It’s never visually dull, and adds a variety to the setting that some books often lack.
Over the course of the book we get to see Prince Maxim journey from a prideful young man, one confident in his abilities, to one that realises that just because he is a royal, and has been trained by some of the best, he’s not always going to win in every situation he’s in. He learns to change the way he acts, to fight dirty, and to bend the rules in order to win. It’s an interesting contrast to the older Maxim that we see in the novels, yet it’s still clearly the same man, with the same sense of morals and drive to do what’s best.
He’s joined in his adventure by Isra, a woman that’s been toughened by her time serving in Verose, becoming somewhat cold and jaded. Despite this, she proves to be a perfect partner for Maxim, picking out his faults and failings and helping him to see where he needs to improve in order to survive. They both clearly want to do the right thing, her past with the Pirate Queen and their complex relationship proves that, and despite her somewhat jaded views, she’s clearly an incredibly loyal and dedicated soldier.
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The artwork in the book, by the talented Andrea Olimpieri, fits the universe of Arnes well. She captures the look and feel created in the books, and translates so many of those images to the page perfectly. Whilst the designs in the book aren’t quite 100% what I imagined when I read the novels, they’re so close that I never once felt that things weren’t right. She took a world that was already so well crafted and brought it to the visual medium of comics.
With more comics set within the universe, following Prince Maxim, to come this is a brilliant introduction to the series. Whether you have read the novels or not, Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince creates a well realised and perfectly crafted world that will immediately draw readers in, with interesting and layered characters. The smaller character moments and the intense magical combat pair together to tell a story that will please readers no matter what they came to the series for. A series definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince is now available from Titan Comics.