Sunday 10 July 2016

#CBR8 Book 73: "Bone" by Jeff Smith

Page count: 1341 pages
Rating: 4 stars

The three Bone cousins Fone Bone (renamed Hero Bone in my head), Smiley Bone (Comic Relief Bone) and Phoney Bone (Greedy, or frequently Insufferable, Bone) have been driven out of their home town of Boneville because Phoney Bone had some sort of get rich quick scheme and scammed the entire town, and now an angry mob has driven them off. They are wandering in the wilderness when they are attacked by a huge swarm of locusts and end up in a mysterious forest in a valley, separated for quite some time.

Fone Bone befriends a small leaf-like bug called Ted and meets a large red dragon, before he is introduced to a pretty girl, Thorn, and her grandma Rose. He also encounters furry, sharp-toothed, pointy-eared rat creatures, who would very much like to eat him. He is eventually re-united with his cousins, who are working in the local tavern at Barrelhaven. As Phoney tries to make himself rich by fixing the betting for the annual cow race, Thorn keeps having strange dreams about her past. It also seems like there are strange and sinister things afoot with the rat creatures, their leader Kingdok, and a mysterious hooded individual, all looking for the Phoney Bone, who wears a star on his shirt.

As Thorn is alerted to the fact that dragons are in fact real, her dreams start coming all the more frequently, and she remembers more about her past, before she ended up in the remote valley with her grandma. She discovers that her grandmother has been lying to her all her life and that there is a reason the rat creatures and the Hooded One are after both Phoney Bone and her for a reason. Can Fone Bone and his cousins help Thorn achieve her destiny? Can they stop the sinister Lord of the Locusts from rising and destroying the world? Will Phoney ever stop trying super annoying Get Rich Quick schemes and making himself unpopular with everyone around him?

I bought my mammoth collected edition of Bone so many years ago I don't even remember not owning it. Have I ever read it before now? That would be a resounding no. Collecting the 55 issues (and nine different books) of the fantasy adventure comic, my edition is a whopping 1341 pages and that makes for quite the unwieldy reading experience. Every time I've considered starting it, I've looked at the size of the book and reconsidered. So in the great comics read of 2016, it was imperative that I finally read this huge book, which I think has moved house with me at least twice.

For the first third or so of the book, I was not impressed. The book starts slow and spends way too long with the Bones just plodding around doing nothing in some remote village. I think Phoney convincing Smiley to dress up like a cow so they can rig the cow race, or Fone Bone wandering around, moonstruck and infatuated with Thorn, writing atrocious love poetry are things that are supposed to be funny, but to me it was just annoying and puerile. It was painfully obvious from the very beginning, even before it was revealed that Thorn had mysterious dreams, what her actual origin was and I would have like the comic so much more if the main focus had been on her and the power struggle with the Lord of the Locusts, instead of countless digressions featuring hapless bald gnome-like beings making me want to tear my hair out.

Once the quest to restore Thorn to her rightful place in the world begins, and there's war brewing and an army of rat creatures and soforth, and Fone Bone stops believing that he could EVER have a chance with a human girl (I have no idea what sort of creatures the Bones are supposed to be, but an inter-species romance between them and humans seems pretty far-fetched, and this is coming from someone who has read any number of shifter romances) and just gets with the helping her program, the book gets a lot better. That Phoney Bone is off-screen for literally hundreds of pages and I don't have to read about his greedy schemes to defraud others was also a plus.

The art is absolutely spectacular. The main fantasy adventure story, when it actually kicks off, is really fun. This book once again reminded me how much I absolutely loathe the trope of early fantasy (thanks Tolkien!) of spending hundreds and hundreds of pages of set-up where nothing much of any importance happens before we get to the good stuff. I am way happier now that most fantasy no longer utilises this trope.

Thorn is quite an engaging heroine and it's not her fault that anyone who's read more than two fantasy narratives ever can tell what her story is from the page she first appears. When Smiley Bone was separated from Phoney and stopped being just idiotic Comic Relief, he was actually very sweet. Even Phoney Bone wasn't a complete waste of space. He clearly actually cares for his cousins and it is explained further into the story that the three are orphans, with Phoney being the eldest, always trying to protect the other two. When he's not actively trying to scam someone to make himself rich (something like 90% of all his appearances in the book), he's not too bad. Grandma Rose was a pretty cool lady, although she appears to have supernatural strength, speed and healing ability, considering the feats she achieves over the course of the story.

I was seriously unsure of what rating to give this collection. If I was only rating the first third, I would probably have ended up on 2 stars. But as the story gets going, it really is very engaging and there are some cool twists and turns. I did come to really like the two cowardly sentry rat creatures, and Bartleby was a darling. I also developed a strange affection for Kingdok, the giant, toothy-grinned leader of the rat creatures, even though he's clearly one of the villains. The art really is so beautiful throughout and if I'd read this as a young teenager, when I had a lot more patience for slow set-ups, I would probably have loved the whole thing. There is a lot of humour (even though I personally found a lot of it annoying rather than funny. According to my husband, I am crazy for not liking the stupid cow race), which is nice, especially because so much fantasy nowadays is all grim and dark. As I can't start with quarter stars (that way madness lies), and the book is better than 3.5, a full four stars it is.

Judging a book by its cover: Sadly, having seen some of the other covers for the collected edition of Bone, I think my edition has one of the most boring and plain covers of the various editions. Fone Bone sitting alone on a rock in the forest. On the back cover, there are little colourized pictures of Phoney, Thorn, Smiley, the Red Dragon and Kingdok, and on the spine, you can see one of the rat creatures attacking Fone Bone in the woods (that's the picture that seems to be the actual cover image on several editions). I wish my book had looked a bit more exciting.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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