Review by Frank Plowright
V. E. Schwab continues her backstory for Maxim Maresh, filling in what there wasn’t space for in her novels regarding a character she’s obviously fond of, detailing just how the Steel Prince built his name and reputation. In The Steel Prince he started on that path by settling the threat of the Pirate Queen, but his problem among the soldiers of Verose is that however he tries, he’s still a Prince with other options, and respect is in short supply. The suggested manner of rectifying this is participation in an annual challenge, the Night of Knives providing the title. Complete four trials behind four doors and you’ve won. The challenges are tough, and once you enter a door you beat that challenge or die, and no-one has ever completed all four. The clever aspect of Schwab’s plot is that entrants can take what they like along with them, suggesting little but their own skill and personality is relevant.
A problem with the previous Steel Prince is repeated here. Schwab really loves her set-up, and that’s well delivered, intriguing and selling the dangers, but when it comes to the pay-off the challenges disappoint. They’re all tied to the Steel Prince’s character, but surely nothing fantasy fans haven’t seen before. Again, there’s little suspense, as, like last time, Schwab rushes through matters to reach the finale, where there are surprises, but not enough. Again, like last time, the Steel Prince isn’t master of his own destiny, and an imaginative mind will notice the plot holes and construct alternative scenarios. A character called Rio is used throughout, dripping with magic, yet in the end a damp squib when his part could have been so much better with a little thought.
Budi Setiawan takes over the layouts and pencil art for Night of Knives, most of his chapters inked by previous artist Andrea Olimpieri, and just as Schwab has repeated the formula from the previous book, Setiawan attempts to stick as closely as possible to the previous style. It’s nowhere near as energetic as his work on The Raid, everything necessary delivered, but in a nondescript way, not helped by the largely dull colouring of Enrica Eren Angioli, although the brightness of magical spells is a highspot.
Shades of Magic ought to be an event graphic novel, but instead it’s decidedly average.