Title: Shades of Magic.
Story-arc: The Steel Prince.
Writer(s): V.E. Schwab.
Illustrator(s): Andrea Olimpieri.
Colourist(s): Enrica Eren Angiolini, Viviana Spinelli & Cassandra Peirano.
Letterer(s): Rob Steen.
Publisher: Titan Comics.
Release Date: March 6th 2019.
Genre(s): Comics, Fantasy.
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.
One of the coolest things about comic books is that it allows stories to take a life of its own. The artwork is a gateway that presents readers to live through their own personal reading experience and draw their own conclusions of what they witness before them. The fact that every reader can have their own interpretation of events gives the medium an edge that traditional stories don’t possess. Without completely leaving readers to their imagination, the artwork guides readers and offers them a better idea of how everything unfolds, especially how the creators envisioned their universe. With the fantasy genre, the opportunity is golden and is a wonderful substitute to live-action movie/TV series and animation. This is what brings V.E. Schwab to jump on this occasion and delivers fans a prequel to her critically-acclaimed Shades of Magic trilogy.
What is Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince about? Collectings issues #1-4, the story focuses on the young, foolish and arrogant prince Maxim Maresh. Known as the king of Red London and the adoptive father of Kell in The Darker Shade of Magic, he is now explored in his days as a prince when he is sent by his father in a violent port city on the Blood Coast of Verose to sharpen his military skills and develop his leadership abilities. In hopes that field experience will teach his son a lesson, this adventure will not be one without its fair share of bloodshed. Upon his arrival, he runs into a reckless band of soldiers that leads him to build new relationships and to further understand the complicated landscape in which he finds himself. What he doesn’t know yet is that he wouldn’t be the only ruler in this playground. The arrival of the pirate queen Arisa will throw him into a dangerous clash filled with old rivalries and ancient history.
There is a lot to appreciate in V.E. Schwab’s first excavation in the realm of comic books although there is a lot of room for improvement. With only four issues in this first volume, one of the most inevitable problems is the pacing. Unless you’ve had your share of laughs and tears with the Shades of Magic trilogy, the universe in Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince barely takes the time to portray the universe outside of Red London. On top of that, the transition between panels can be outragedly confusing and rapid to the point where confusion remains the main emotional status for the reader as he tries to understand the events that unfold, especial during the magic-filled action sequences. In fact, the magic system remains one of Schwab’s forte but with the visual story-telling that she attempts to capitalize on here, there’s a certain difficulty in understanding how exactly some of the powers work and what exactly is going on.
To complicate things a bit more, the artwork turns out to be a double-edged sword. It’s particularly dark and plays a bit excessively with shadows, but allows Schwab to have her story told in a unique and sinister style. It doesn’t help when the transition from a panel to another feels choppy and gives the reader the impression that there are events that occur but aren’t shared with them. Consequently, this also accelerates the pacing of the story and never truly allows the reader to feel immersed in this universe and to establish any significant relationship with any of the characters. Rest assured, there are however characters that will inevitably intrigue you, especially prince Maxim Maresh and guard Isra. Fans of Schwab’s Shades of Magic universe will fall in love with the opportunity to discover the history behind these characters in their younger and flamboyant days. Its shorter length and choppy story-telling are just obstacles that will have to be lived with.
Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince is a dark and enjoyable endeavor in visual story-telling for V.E. Schwab and allows fans to dive back in a beloved universe in all of its colourful and mischievous glory.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy for review!