Genre: Fantasy Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 4 stars Series: Yes - companion to main series.
I rarely read graphic novels, and never comics. The art and I often don’t click well. However, I adore the Shades of Magic series and these comic bind ups follow character who clearly has much more of a story than the novels have time for. It’s King Maxim’s life as a prince, set before the main series.
It’s taken me a very long time to read my way through these, mostly because the third one wasn’t really found on shelves.
VOLUME 1: THE STEEL PRINCE
THE STEEL PRINCE (Goodreads here) is a fun, quick read. The magic looks so cool in this medium, bold and exciting. Maxim’s magic is unique, controlling metal, and the shards glittering along the pages make him stand out.
I loved meeting Maxim and Isra – who don’t get much page time. Maxim is an antagonist most of the time for Kell (and Rhy) and THE STEEL PRINCE gives us a arrogant young man who has yet to grow into the stern king of the trilogy. I liked the easy relationship between Maxim and Isra.
The art was a little confusing in a few places when I wasn’t sure who was doing what (or what they were doing) but that could easily be thanks to my inexperience with comics. A few things stood out as a shorthand that I didn’t know, particularly the panel layout. It didn’t really bother me, because I got the gist from the flow of the story.
VOLUME 2: NIGHT OF KNIVES
The second graphic novel bind up (Goodreads here) about Maxim Maresh before he was King was just as intriguing and quick to read as the first. The format makes for easy reading, though if you take your time there are all sorts of beautiful details in the artwork. The artists put such effort into drawing it all out.
However, you may not wish to go slow enough to linger over the panels as V.E. Schwab delivers her typical rapid pacing full of adventure, magic and high stakes as Maxim enters a competition of magic and knowing when to leave in order to gain respect.
I felt his final choice was a little undercut by the villain, a way to push to a climax and give him the character arc moment. The illusion spun to the people about it also undercut this a little. He’s told that respect is partly won from knowing your limits, but that doesn’t seem to happen when his choice is undermined.
VOLUME 3: THE REBEL ARMY
The final instalment (Goodreads here) brings back a villain from the previous comic, giving it the most continuity of the lot – and adds more emotional weight to the showdown than the other two got. it was a nice way to round the series off, with a real cost for Maxim, rather than just another blood bath – the villain does really push him and takes the “fullness” of the victory away.
Having just re-read the previous two and then this one, I noticed how dark the colour palate was at times. It could make it quite tricky to work out who was who (or what exactly was going on) when everything was vague outlines. I don’t know if it’s a common art style or not for comics, but it seemed a little odd to me to be so obscuring when the visuals are a key part of the story telling in this medium.
The ending is clearly leaving space open for future comic runs, tying up this arc but leaving space for more stories with the final panel introducing a glimpse of a shadow-y figure.
Read my review of other books by V. E. Schwab
Shades of Magic (this series):