Maxim Maresh came to Verose to whip their army base into shape. If the Pirate Queen’s arrival in The Steel Prince put that plan on hold, Night of Knives sees Maxim getting down to business, making soldiers do push-ups while he scolds them for letting the place go.
Maxim can’t change being a royal, but it does make leading an army base hard. To earn their respect, he agrees to enter the Night of Knives, a series of four challenges where no one has ever made it out of the last challenge alive. The rules are that once you start a level you can’t stop but, if you complete a level, the choice is yours to continue.
The second volume in writer, V.E. Schwab’s, planned, three-arc prequel to her Shades of Magic novels, Night of Knives has its work cut out for it, and falls into a trap of its own making. The Night of Knives can’t live up to the hype. More time is spent on some challenges than others and it creates the impression that they’re not always rising in difficulty. There’s also the catch that Maxim has to enter the Night of Knives alone. In Schwab’s novels you would have access to Maxim’s interior thoughts. They’re not as available here.
Schwab continues to trust her art team, though, and Budi Setiawan is a seamless replacement for Andrea Olimpieri as the series’ artist. Olimpieri staying on as inker for chapters two through four doesn’t hurt, but Setiawan’s artwork feels completely at peace with what Olimpieri was doing in The Steel Prince, a continuity that’s aided by the return of series colorist, Enrica Eren Angiolini (with color assists by Viviana Spinelli), who gives each challenge its own color palette. Often, it’s through the art that you’re told how Maxim outsmarts each challenge, along with advice that Maxim remembers and letterer, Rob Steen, offsets in italics.
Schwab never feels compelled to supplant their work with a written explanation, and that works differently in different situations. It’s not because of any failing on the art team’s part, but because, as a reader, you then have to trust yourself, that you’re reading the action correctly. When it works, it’s much more potent this way.
Night of Knives also capitalizes on the friendships that The Steel Prince forged, between Maxim and his royal guard. To go back to the ‘Maxim has to enter the Night of Knives alone’ hitch, Night of Knives compensates for that silence by allowing his friends to keep a running commentary on his progress. Visually reminiscent of the crystal ball from The Wizard of Oz, the viewing area is a great device that’s complicated by the fact that the Night of Knives is meant to retain some secrecy. That means Maxim’s friends aren’t seeing exactly what Maxim (or readers) are seeing and gives readers the chance to see how close Isra and Maxim have become, while rewarding our investment in other characters, like Osili and Toro.
The Pirate Queen was a tough act to follow but Night of Knives holds its own, leading up to a final volume, The Rebel Army, which should be coming out next summer. Issue #1 of The Rebel Army is available now from Titan Comics.