Reading graphic novels by issue can be tough, especially for readers who struggle with cliffhangers, but there’s beauty in the little details, all of which come together to tell a story of their own. In her debut graphic novel, The Steel Prince, V.E. Schwab does just that – the first short issue seamlessly blends into the Shades of Magic universe through familiar dialogue and tone, while the illustrations drawn by Andrea Olimpieri and colored by Enrica Angiolini bring life to Red London, magic and the vibrancy of the royal Maresh family.
Serving as a prequel, the first issue of The Steel Prince offers a glimpse at the state of Red London through the eyes of a young, determined and arrogant Maxim Maresh, a metal magician intent on finding the long-lost antari against his father Nokil’s wishes. Despite his arrogance and the danger associated with the antari, who have the power to travel between worlds through the use of blood magic, Maxim’s analytical observations hold truth as his reasoning predicts the future: “Because sooner or later, all spells fail.”
By using the medium of a graphic novel, one small scene unveils countless detail – when Maxim challenges his father, the illustrations fill in the blanks of the story. Not only are we delving into the past and meeting new characters such as Nokil, but we’re witnessing a new side of Maxim that allows us to understand Rhy and his mischief, determination, and love of London. Tieren, the aven essen, or high priest of Red London, even makes an appearance and offers words of wisdom. But there’s more than just simple interactions with characters – we truly see the splendor and vibrant coloring of the palace through the intricate details in clothing colored with white, red and gold, much like the sunset that serves as imagery for the royal bedchambers in A Darker Shade of Magic. Meanwhile, the runes and symbols used by antari are unveiled, which adds so much depth to a world previously established in the Shades of Magic series.
After Maxim’s plan to find antari travelers falls through at the hands of the furious Nokil, he receives punishment by exile to Verose, a dangerous port city. Despite quick-thinking precautions to prevent detection, Maxim finds himself in the midst of a fight where he learns a thing or two about the royal guard, magic, and even his stance as a fighter. Interspersed with close-up shots of a stunning magical trap in another display of what magic truly looks like – this time in the form of an intricate, yet deadly mandala – Olimpieri and Andiolini truly add depth to the Shades of Magic universe, going as far as showing a bit of metal bending as well.
Although Rhy is something of an anomaly in Red London in the Shades of Magic series due to his lack of magic, his fierce determination to prove himself and stand up for his people reigns supreme, a trait that seems to come from Maxim himself. While he has the ability to weave and transform metal to his liking, Maxim has a lot to learn in The Steel Prince as he is brought face to face with the lackluster attitude of the royal guard in addition to uncovering the truth about his own fighting stance – it’s that of a royal, not a fighter. From Maxim’s decision to change his ways and give up his royal status, choosing instead to bunk with the members of the guard, the beginning of his journey as The Steel Prince begins.
Full of lessons, realizations, and vibrant images, The Steel Prince adds a new layer of complexity to the Shades of Magic series. From a glimpse at magic to the nostalgic wisdom of Tieren, the first issue of The Steel Prince draws strong parallels between Maxim and his son Rhy in terms of attitude, strength, and determination, all the while revealing a new and exciting backstory of corruption and surprise.