Roundtable Review: Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince #1

Cover of Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince

Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince #1

Enrica Eren Angiolini (colorist), Andrea Olimpieri (artist), V.E. Schwab (writer)
Titan Comics
October 10, 2018

A copy of this comic was provided to WWAC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series has come to its conclusion in the novels, but the third book opened a door to its past that Schwab has taken us through in a new format. The first issue of this new series from Titan Comics focuses on Maxim Maresh, the enigmatic king of Red London whom we know very little about beyond his sons’ dealings with him. In The Steel Prince, we get to meet the man behind the crown and discover exactly how he earned himself that austere title.

Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince #1 (Titan Comics, October 2018)

How did you come to the Shades of Magic series?

Annie Blitzen: I didn’t. I think my wife has read some of it, but I don’t really have any knowledge of it beyond reviewing a variant cover for an upcoming issue for our Cover Girls series. I’m given to understand there are angry people, magics, and/or queers.

Wendy Browne: I started with Vicious, then have slowly followed Schwab’s work since then. I’m currently catching up with the Monsters of Verity series.

Kelly Richards: A friend recommended A Darker Shade of Magic a while back, and I just fell in love with the world and the characters and of course, my number one girl, Lila Bard. They became a big part of my life so I’ve been waiting anxiously for both this and the next arc.

Nola Pfau: I made the mistake once of telling Kelly that I’d never read them and then I came to fear for my life. No one tell her I haven’t read the third one yet.

How did you feel about Maxim prior to reading this comic? What are your feelings about the character now?

Annie: I’d never heard of him. I assumed the lady on the cover we reviewed was the eponymous Steel Prince, but now it turns out she’s a pirate queen this Maxim guy is going to be famous for defeating. I’m definitely disappointed by that, even if she does make a dramatic entrance. It’s interesting that the royal family of London is dark-skinned in this world. Definitely more people of color than you see in most quasi-European fantasy settings, which is nice. Maxim seems to have the right sort of idea regarding connecting to the lives of the people he’s expected to rule and/or command, but he’s going about it in a very privileged, ignorant way so far. Hopefully, we’ll see that change as the comic progresses.

Wendy: In issue #1, Schwab includes the dialogue from A Conjuring of Light that first names Maxim as the Steel Prince. As she notes there, it pretty much begged to have his story told, especially considering what he does in that third book. Prior to that, I hadn’t entirely cared about him. He was a harsh and emotionally distant king who ruled his sons with a firm hand that focused on trying to keep them in line and trying to get them to understand their responsibilities. Seeing him now, it’s not exactly the trope of an irresponsible prince who has to grow up into this cold and calculating responsible king. There’s certainly some growing up that he has to do here, but I appreciate that he is and always has been focused on the needs of the people, even if he doesn’t exactly know how to go about being among them. Like, dude, you can’t walk in there with a shawl draped over your fancy coat and call that a disguise.

Kelly: Prior to this, Maxim was kind of a nonentity to me. Most days I don’t think I would even be able to remember his name. Now I’m yelling at nobody in particular about how he ought to think about the way he used to behave when he’s laying into Rhy and Kell. Not so proper now, Maresh!

Nola: I am not familiar with Maxim at all. He’s uh. He’s nice. I like him. I want to ruffle those curly bangs of his.

How well does the art work in telling this story? If you’re familiar with the series, is this how you pictured the Londons or the characters themselves?

Wendy: I had trouble dealing with the art. It’s heavily shaded and lined, and it made it difficult for me to tell characters apart, especially during action sequences where I had further trouble defining exactly what was happening in each panel.

Annie: I had a similar problem. Several of the characters have similar faces and hair, with their skin tone and clothing colors being what distinguishes them. In the action sequences, the dramatic lighting from the use of magic washes out all those color differences. I had to get to the end, note that this guy and that guy had these injuries, then go back and cross-referenced those with the panels where those injuries occurred.

Kelly: As much as I loved the character designs and costuming, I found the art a little difficult to get along with. Primarily because of how heavy some of the linework and shading is. I always imagined Red London, even the not so nice parts, to be the brightest and most magical looking of the four, but reading this I found myself wondering how you would differentiate Grey London when this one is so gloomy. I mean, it hardly looks as though it smells like flowers there.

Nola: There’s definitely a point during that fight scene where I confused Maxim and another character, and it wasn’t clear until a panel showing the two of them after the fact. That said, I really like the roughness of the linework; it’s got a character and an energy to it that lends immediacy to what’s going on. I agree with Kelly’s point about the color choices though; this doesn’t feel like Red London to me.

Magic plays a large role in this story. Now we get to see it in action. How do you feel about the depiction of magic so far?

Wendy: The magic is bright and colourful, so in those moments when it’s being used, at least I had less trouble reading the scenes. I liked being able to see how easily and often magic users could wield their magic and how they chose to use it, from self defense and attack, to simply making a point in an argument.

Annie: It’s magic, I guess. I’ve seen better and worse depictions of the use of combat magic in a street fight, which is kind of an odd thing to be able to say. Some of the specific tricks looked quite neat, like when he shoots off bits of his sword with steelomancy or whatever it is.

Kelly: Magic is always good, and the panels at the beginning showing the Antari sealing the barriers between the four Londons with the blood circling their hand is *chef kiss.* Aside from this, it was interesting to see the other forms of “regular” magic in use, both in combat and more mundane situations, especially Maxim’s metal magic.

Nola: I might not have finished the original trilogy, but I’m deep enough in to immediately grasp the significance of the coin held by the Prince, even before the scene where it’s given to him. It’s the kind of thing that holds me fast and tells me exactly what story I’m dipping into, and I appreciate that. Magic in Schwab’s world has a distinct style to it, and I’m really, really excited to see that translated to a visual medium.

Issue #2, which will be out in November, promises a nasty showdown with the enigmatic pirate queen that had us all mesmerized earlier this month.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.