Book review

Review: Shades of Magic Vol. 1: The Steel Prince – V.E. Schwab and Andrea Olimpieri

112 pages | Titan Comics | Fantasy, Graphic Novel

 

This is an honest review. It’s also a negative review.

 

The digest: My most disappointing read of 2019 (so far). This graphic novel had every chance of being one of my favourites, but shoddy writing and a woefully underexplored story make it entirely forgettable.

 

From the book’s Goodreads page:

“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…”

 

Likes

  • The artwork is generally pretty good. I enjoyed the depiction of static scenes the best, with some excellent character design popping up here and there.
    • I also enjoyed the colour palette of this graphic novel, though it must be said that I’d have preferred it to be a bit consistently brighter. This preference had no impact on the score that this volume has received.
  • The magic looks cool if viewed in isolation. Basically, viewed as single frames the magic is presented rather well – bright streaks of colour contrasting with darker, more muted backgrounds.

 

Dislikes

  • The story is painfully flimsy. The synopsis promises great things, as does Schwab’s implications from her Shades of Magic trilogy, but this graphic novel just fails to deliver on basically every level in terms of story. Character X just so happens to do this or that, conveniently allowing MC to progress. It’s all too simplistic and straightforward. It’s also full of plot conveniences.
  • The characters are uninteresting. We are literally seeing the start of the Steel Prince’s career and… he’s dull. No character development to speak of whatsoever. The rest of the cast is equally as boring, with any promise of an interesting villain culled by the third issue here. Another example of potential being wasted.
  • The worldbuilding is (wait for it) wasted potential. This is the Shades of Magic universe for goodness sake, and the best we can do is a little nod here and there to magic (never explained), conflicts (never explained), and some sort of political intrigue/classicism as to why the King doesn’t care about the ports (also never really explained). You could take this GN and put it in any vaguely magical world and nothing would change. That isn’t good.
  • The action scenes are difficult to follow sometimes. know that magic is going on, or arrows being throws, or sword being slashed, but I can’t see it clearly. Not what I want in a graphic novel.
  • The plot is pegged as a big showdown and then it’s all… over within about three pages. An absolute waste of what could (and should) have been an awesome look into one of the most powerful characters from Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy.
  • There is no real pacing to speak of. For a story to have pacing it must first have content – instead what we have here is a series of loosely connected events with no sense of continuity; going from page to page often felt like a flashback scene in a movie, where you know the general gist of what is going on but lack any sort of deeper understanding.
  • I’m not being unnecessarily harsh to this book because it’s a graphic novel. I’ve rated several GNs quite highly this year, and think that the Hellboy series is one of the most interesting pieces of Speculative Fiction going. This one is just objectively bad in my opinion.

 

In conclusion: 1/5, stay well away. Since reading Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy I’m yet to actually enjoy any of her other work, and I’m really starting to think that she may have been a one-hit-wonder (if the singular hit is a trilogy) – at least for books that I enjoy. This GN is massively disappointing and is full of waste potential. The plot can be summed up into about one sentence, and honestly, you wouldn’t miss out on any character development if that’s all you ever knew of the story. I cannot in good faith recommend this to anyone, unfortunately.

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