Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince – Night of Knives returns readers to the amazing world of the Shades of Magic series, once again exploring the past of King Maxim, and shedding light upon some of his greatest exploits.
Having already defeated the Pirate Queen of the Blood Coast in the previous volume of the series, Maxim is trying to turn the royal guard of Verose into a group of ‘real’ soldiers. He’s fed up with their lax attitudes and wants to further prove himself to his father, King Nokil, by making them into a guard worthy of honour and recognition.
Unfortunately, many of the royal guard in the city still don’t feel like Maxim belongs there. They see him as something of a spoiled brat, given his position because of his birth, not because he’s actually earned it. Whilst Maxim believed that slaying the Pirate Queen would have won him some respect with his men it seems like it’s not enough to make him the leader he wants to be.
READ MORE: October Faction: Open Season – Review
When Maxim learns about the mysterious Night of Knives, a series of trials that prove the bravery and power of those who survive, he believes that he’s found his way of gaining the respect of his men and earning his place as their leader.
The Night of Knives is a great concept. Pitting Maxim against a series of trials that are designed to test him to his limits is a brilliant way of putting the character on a path of self discovery, which seems to ultimately be what the series is about. Yes, we’re learning more about the character and how he became a legend, but ultimately it seems to be about him learning to become a real leader, discovering the qualities that he’ll need in order to be a good king one day.
The trials themselves are pretty fun and inventive. The first trial requires Maxim to use his magic to navigate a death trap, whilst the second is purely about survival whilst stripped of powers. The third trial is something of a classic story trope, the hero having to face a manifestation of their own fears. Schwab herself acknowledges it’s a trope in the included interview, but she’s managed to avoid making it feel too cliched or done before, instead making it feel like a natural progression of the trials rather than something thrown in because it’s expected.
The final trial is something that’s a little unexpected, and in all honesty is a slight twist in the story. I’m not going to say much about it as I don’t want to ruin the ending, but I will say that it was really good and set up possible things to come in the future. I’m also a little angry at myself for not seeing part of it coming. If you know the rules of the Shades of Magic universe then there’s something that happens you can pick up on if you’re paying enough attention; but then V.E. Schwab is clever enough to not make it too obvious and telegraph what’s going to come.
There’s been a change of artists between volume one and this book, with Budi Setiawan joining in the art duties with Andrea Olimpieri. Honestly, even with the book telling you which artist worked on which issue it’s hard to notice much of a difference between the two of them. Sometimes when a comic changes artists mid-story it can be a really jarring art style shift, and it can draw you out of the narrative, but here the two artists work brilliantly together to produce a book that feels like one cohesive whole.
The designs they make for the new characters introduced in the book, such as the ‘psychotic magic blade for hire’ Rio, are great, and fit into the already established aesthetic whilst managing to look fresh and distinct. The trials also have brilliant designs and whilst the notion of magical trials isn’t a new one they’re presented here in a way that feels unique.
Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince – Night of Knives is the perfect continuation of the story of the Steel Prince, and manages to not just be as entertaining as the first volume, but ups the ante on character development, universe building, and interesting antagonists. Fans of the Shades of Magic universe will of course love the book, and even those new to the story will be able to entertained throughout.