Shades of Magic: Graphic Novel series review — V.E. Schwab

March 7, 2022

TITLES: Shades of Magic, Volumes 1-3: The Steel Prince, Night of Knives, and The Rebel Army
AUTHOR: V.E. Schwab
GENRE: Fantasy
PAGES: 112pg, 114pg, 112pg
PUBLISHER: Titan Comics

Delve into the thrilling, epic tale of the young and arrogant prince Maxim Maresh, long before he became the king of Red London and adoptive father to Kell, the lead of A Darker Shade of Magic!

The youthful Maresh is sent to a violent and unmanageable port city on the Blood Coast of Verose, on strict orders from his father, King Nokil Maresh, to cut his military teeth in this lawless landscape.

There, he encounters an unruly band of soldiers, a lawless landscape, and the intoxicatingly deadly presence of the newly returned pirate queen, Arisa…

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I’m trying something new with this series review format, and I hope you all like it!

I’ve been missing the Shades series and characters lately, so I thought it was high time that I read the graphic novel series following Maxim in his younger days. This was incredibly fast-paced and fascinating! I love prequels and getting to go back into the past to learn more about a world I’ve already spent so much time falling in love with, and the series has a wonderful coupling of both old and new details and characters. While none of the volumes explicitly spoil details from the original trilogy, I would personally recommend waiting until after finishing A Conjuring of Light before picking up this graphic novel series.

My only complaint was that I thought the art style was a little dark and muddled during the big fight scenes, so it sometimes was difficult to follow along with exactly what was happening, but I think that could easily be a “me” issue more than a problem with the art itself. That said, I tore through this trilogy of graphic novels in one very quick sitting!

The Steel Prince did an excellent job of setting the stage by showing us where Maxim began: as an arrogant, slightly oblivious princeling who needed to learn not only how to rule, but also how to empathize with his people. We quickly get to see his character develop into something more stable and understanding, but Night of Knives is where Maxim truly begins to shine and we start to see the King within. Night of Knives was my favorite volume of the three, because it involves one of my favorite tropes: a set of “trials” or a competition that is incredibly dangerous: high risk, high reward, as Maxim sees it. Finally, The Rebel Army is where Maxim shines his most brilliant, and it reminded me of why, despite some of the struggles I had with him in the main series, I loved his character and wanted so badly to learn more about him. He reaches a level of humility and selflessness that makes it impossible to avoid rooting for him, and definitely gave a little new context to his mannerisms at points in the main novels.

I’m so happy I read these graphic novels, and I highly recommend them to any Shades fans! Like I said, I personally think the greatest benefit would come from picking these up after finishing A Conjuring of Light, but if you’re not concerned about vague spoilers, these would stand on their own very well, too.

content warnings →
WARNINGS (no spoilers):

violence, death, minor self-harm (for magical purposes), suicide

representation →

the members of the Maresh family are Black; multiple BIPOC side characters; one on-page sapphic side character


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More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

    1. Thank you for recommending a place to read these. I’m about to start the series and wasn’t sure if I should read before or not. I’ll wait till after I read the novels 🙂

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