AUTHOR: V.E. SCHWAB | ARTIST: ANDREA OLIMPIERI | PUBLISHER: TITAN | FORMAT: TRADE PAPERBACK | RELEASE DATE: MARCH 5TH
V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic books have got to be some of the best fantasy lit of the decade. Though the trilogy came to an end last year, the author thankfully isn’t done with the rich magical multiverse she created, as this comic book from Titan returns to Red London to fill in the backstory of the novels.
The comic follows Prince Maxim Maresh, the man who will go onto become the father of book protagonists Kell and Rhy. Maxim was a complicated figure in the books, ultimately a good man but also one who made mistakes, but this series follows him as an idealistic, swashbuckling young prince. As such, the comic lacks some of the complexity of the original source material but is still mightily enjoyable.
When banished to govern over a violent outpost to prove himself, Maxim is tested immediately when the legendary pirate queen, Arisa, returns to port in order to cause havoc. As Schwab reminds us in her intro, we already know that Maxim defeats her from a reference in A Conjuring of Light, but the fun is in finding out how he manages it.
Maxim’s a classic royal protagonist, of the kind that can be seen in anything from Shakespeare to Marvel - the arrogant prince who learns humility and courage when left to fend for himself. A nice twist to the trope is that Schwab starts the story with him already possessing a passion for social justice. Isra, a fierce guardswoman with an unfortunate family history, is also a great character who will likely become a favourite with fans.
Unlike in the books we don’t just have Schwab’s words to bring the world of Red London to life, and artist Andrea Olimpieri does a fantastic job across all four issues, with her heavy-lined, almost expressionistic style a perfect fit for the dark fantasy tale. Colourist Enrica Eren Angiolini also deserves a mention for the effective contrast between a generally washed-out look and the vibrant splashes of colour when magic is in use.
All in all, The Steel Prince is an entertaining adventure comic that comes across like a winning combination of Doctor Strange and Pirates of the Caribbean. And if that comparison doesn’t make you want to read it, then we feel sorry for you!