May Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince be a template for others. This is how you take a popular book series and expand it in a way that’s completely accessible to new readers yet also provides brand new content for fans who have been loyal to the series from the beginning. Written by Shades of Magic creator, V.E. Schwab, with art by Andrea Olimpieri, The Steel Prince is a prequel comic centered around Maxim Maresh, the future king of Arnes.
A two-page spread introduces us to the Shades of Magic world. Originally made up of four kingdoms, the first kingdom was sealed off after the magic there got corrupted. Then Arnes, the third kingdom, took things further, by sealing itself off from kingdoms two and four.
Enrica Eren Angiolini does the colors for Steel Prince (along with color assists by Viviana Spinelli and flats for chapter four by Cassandra Peirano) and there’s a temperature to the different magics in the book. In terms of this spread, magic is described as being “like heat,” so you have this visual of Arnes’ spells looking very fiery while the other kingdoms’ spells are icy blue. It’s an image that shows how relentless and unforgiving Arnes’ decision was, free of whys and justifications.
That 200-year-old history matters to this story, too, because while Maxim thinks it’s time they considered taking down the seals (before they break of their own volition and Arnes has some ‘splainin’ to do), his father, King Nokil, couldn’t disagree more and thinks Maxim should be focusing on his own world, not the others. It’s this thinking that leads to Nokil acquiring a military posting for Maxim in the port city of Verose. Rougher than the Red London Maxim is used to (and about to become rougher still, with the Pirate Queen’s arrival), Schwab’s characterizations for Nokil and Maxim are interesting here, because we’ve all seen the story where the spoiled prince gets a taste of the real world, but Maxim has some self-awareness, and his concerns aren’t unfounded.
When Nokil’s advisor tries to point this out to Nokil, his palm flares (Maxim’s family use metal magic). That kind of temper and self-certainty in a king is a dangerous thing, but while he sends Maxim away for the wrong reasons, he’s not wrong about Maxim needing to experience life outside the capital. Maxim has grown up privileged (I love, for instance, that Olimpieri draws attention to Maxim’s habit of grabbing people by the shoulder when he first arrives, because it’s such an assumption of authority) and in the deserted, claustrophobic streets of Verose, that makes him vulnerable.
Growing up I loved adventures stories and pirates and I feel like I’ve been looking for a comic to scratch that itch for a while. The Steel Prince does that and more. Letterer, Rob Steen, adds a nice pacing to the dialogue by indenting speech bubbles so they look like ice cream scoops. I also love that, while it’s not a perfect system, the book never explains how the various magics work but shows them working in action.
A backmatter section looks at the different hairstyles Olimpieri considered for Maxim (he made the right choice) and offers an explanation for the Pirate Queen’s awesome flag, a skeleton hand which sometimes turns into a fist but with the simple explanation of being a double-sided flag, not magic.
Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince, Volume 1 goes on sale March 5th from Titan Comics and keep an eye out for Shades of Magic: The Night of Knives, which starts April 10th.