Interview: V.E. Schwab Talks Continuing the Magic in 'Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince'

Shades of Magic Vol. 1: The Steel Prince hits stores this week, providing a collected look at the latest chapter of the Shades of Magic series. The graphic novel features the story of a young Maxim Maresh, before he went on to become the King of Red London in the Shades of Magic book series. Under the orders of his father, Maxim is sent to a port city, where his military knowledge is put to the test by his new surroundings and cohorts -- and by the arrival of a deadly pirate queen.

Shades of Magic series author V.E. Schwab crafts the narrative of The Steel Prince, alongside art from Andrea Olimpieri. got a chance to chat with Schwab via email about Shades of Magic, where the franchise is headed next, and the re-release of her first novel, The Near Witch.

shades of magic the steel prince cover
(Photo: Titan Comics)

--- How did the idea of expanding the franchise through a comic come about?

V.E. Schwab: It was in part a long-standing dream, and in part a wonderful matter of timing. I've always been a comics fan, and a visual thinker, always wanted to see one of my stories translated into a visual medium, it simply became a matter of opportunity. When Titan approached me, I had just sold the next three books in the Shades series, which move forward in time, and the comics became a chance to move backward, to explore threads of the story that happened before the start of A Darker Shade of Magic.

In the graphic novel’s introduction, you talk about expanding Maxim’s origins, and sort of subverting what people thought they knew about the character in the books. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that decision a bit more.

The King of Red London is a fairly static figure, set in his ways by the time we meet him in the Shades novels. He's in many ways an antagonist, but no one is the way they are without reason--I knew there were events that shaped Maxim, but his were one of the threads I couldn't fully explore without diluting the potency of the main plot in the books. The comics allow me to go back to before Maxim was the king we know in the novels, to when he was his son Rhy's age, and really in the process of finding his own identity, for better or worse.

shades of magic the steel prince 01
(Photo: Titan Comics)

What was it like transitioning from exploring this franchise in novel format to having the added visual medium that comes with the graphic novel?

It's like learning a new language, a completely different format, sure, but also a different way of thinking about store. I come from a world of chapters, parts, books, arcs. Learning to think in terms of panels per page, and budget story into 22-page increments was a massive challenge, but a supremely satisfying one.

Are there any sequences in this graphic novel that you’re especially fond of or proud of?

I have favorites, but most of those are thanks to the genius work of the artist and colourist, not my own imagination. But there is one sequence that was translated so perfectly, transmuted from my head to the page: It's a sequence involving Arisa, the Pirate Queen, in which she's depicted as a puppet master (as a bone magician, she controls the bodies of those around her) and it felt really surreal to see her come to life, especially in the 2nd issue.

I personally loved the dynamic between Isra and Arisa, and thought it was really refreshing to see a conflict between two women -- much less two family members -- in a fantasy world like this. I was wondering if you could talk about that dynamic, and what drew you to exploring it.

So often emphasis is put on romantic relationships, but I've always been more interested in antagonism, family, friendship, adversary, these complicated dynamics that combine dedication, envy, loyalty, resentment. The relationship between Arisa and Isra was one of my favorite kinds, leaning into both power, hierarchy, and identity.

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(Photo: Titan Comics)

What can you tease about what’s to come in the next installment of the graphic novel, Night of Knives?

I have to be careful of teasing, because I have no self-control :p But I will say that the Night of Knives sequence --centering on a series of trials meant to test power, ego, and control-- will have some truly amazing magic sequences, as well as a twist I can't wait to see play out on the page.

I’m excited to hear that Titan Books is republishing your first novel, The Near Witch. How does it feel to have the novel find a new generation of readers?

Humbling and surreal. My first novel, like so many, fell victim to the fact that publishing is rather ruthlessly short-minded, and I didn't have the audience to keep the book on shelves long enough for readers to discover it. I'm over the moon it's coming back, and with a novella included that I wrote with all my heart, and never saw published. This is the book that started it all for me.



Shades of Magic Vol. 1: The Steel Prince will arrive in stores on Tuesday, March 5th.