Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince : Night of Knives – V.E. Schwab, Budi Setiawan, Andrea Olimpieri, Enrica Erin Angiolini, Viviana Spinelli & Rob Steen (Titan Comics)

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The thing about entering a series mid-cycle is that it’s all too easy to become undone in the narrative and lose your way because you don’t know the characters, haven’t got a clue what’s going on and can often feel like you’re continually playing a game of catch-up in which the rules are constantly changing.  It’s also something that, given the previously mentioned pitfalls, I tend to avoid as I’m not exactly a fan of being tossed from pillar to post in a vague attempt to try and understand a story that I really shouldn’t be trying to immerse myself in. This was my main concern when I turned the first page of Night of Knives, the second arc of V.E. Schwab’s comic adaptation of her incredibly successful Shade of Magic trilogy. However, I needn’t have been perturbed, as the brief introduction to the world in which Night of Knives is set also serves to bring the reader up to speed with the events that have led up to the point at which this chapterbegins.

The plot unfolds at an astonishing rate, and it’s tantamount to Schwab’s story-telling ability that the reader never, not even for a moment, loses track of the myriad twists and turns that beset the central character, the Steel Prince of the title, Maxim. Having found himself in command of a garrison of soldiers who don’t respect his authority, seeing him first and foremost as a prince who has been gifted his rank rather than a warrior who has earned it, in an effort to win the esteem of the men and women he’s been placed in charge of, Maxim enters an impossible challenge to prove himself worthy of his new position.   A Herculean effort of will and a stubborn refusal to listen to advice finds Maxim battling through the Night of Knives while facing treachery, betrayal and the villainous machinations of petty foes and unexpected enemies alike to achieve what no-one else ever has; the completion of the Night.

Schwab’s unnervingly incredible, and previously mentioned, ability as a story-teller draws the reader straight into the heart of the tale and allows her characters to take centre stage in a well woven tale of intrigue, adventure, magic and sword-play.  Maxim and his allies are complicated, fully rounded creations driven by their own demons and neuroses whose interaction with each other and the circumstances that determine their fate transforms them from strangers into likeable, familiar players who the reader feels invested in in what, in literary terms, is the blink of an eye. Brought to life by the gorgeously detailed, sumptuous art of Budi Setiawan, Night of Knives has, as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins so eloquently suggested, put a spell on me, and not only made me a believer, but has made me want to further explore the Shades of Magic franchise. And given the chance, I’m sure that it’ll do the same to each and every one of you…  Tim Cundle

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