The Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince is V.E. Schwab’s first graphic novel series, about the character of King Maxim from her original Shades of Magic series, starting with A Darker Shade of Magic. This is a prequel series, set long before Maxim ever becomes king, about his completion of the three major feats that earnt him the moniker ‘The Steel Prince.’
With a team comprising of artist Andrea Olimpieri, colourist Enrica Erin Angiolini and letterer Rob Steen (and artist Budi Setiawan in the second volume), V.E. Schwab sets out to bring these stories to life in a format very different to her usual novel.
The series itself is made up of three volumes: The Steel Prince, where Maxim must face down the infamous Pirate Queen; Night of Knives, where he participates in the dangerous, eponymous magic competition and, finally, The Rebel Army, where he must defeat an army set on bringing the monarchy to an end. All volumes take place in the lawless coastal city of Verose, where Maxim takes control of the local guard and must earn his place among them.
Each of the individual volumes are very readable, with action picking up fast yet still finding time for smaller character moments. Unfortunately, with such a small number of pages, it is difficult to give characters their own space and while Maxim came into his own throughout the series, the secondary characters suffered a bit and I couldn’t tell you who they were after a second reread. That being said, I did enjoy the villains, with the Pirate Queen from the first volume being particularly intriguing – I would have liked to learn more about her. While the writing was solid (as one expects from V.E. Schwab), I did feel that the scenes jumped around quite a lot and it could have done with some transitional text to help inform the reader of where things had shifted to, especially where the same characters were involved.
The art for me was a bit of a mix. I loved the covers and all the cover art dotted throughout each bind-up, and I really appreciated how it kept with V.E. Schwab’s branding and the book’s themes of red, black and white as the predominant colours, which made it quite visually cohesive. It didn’t shy away from the bloody violence of the city, and I thought it did a great job at depicting the magic of this world. However, the general panels tended to be quite dark which made it difficult to see, and the fight scenes in particular were difficult to decipher.
For a first endeavour into graphic novels, I would say the overall these were a success – the plots were gripping, they were still very readable despite some of the issues with the transitions and the artwork, and each volume works well as a standalone while also coming together in a well-constructed trilogy. I have my doubts as to how accessible these graphic novels will be to those who aren’t familiar with the Shades of Magic world already from the A Darker Shade of Magic trilogy, but I have no doubt that those who enjoyed the novel trilogy will also enjoy this trilogy. And, I hear there will be more Shades of Magic books in the future, so there will be those to look forward to as well.