February 23, 2006


Bone, Book Three: Eyes of the Storm. By Jeff Smith. Graphix/Scholastic. $18.99 hardcover; $9.99 paperback.

     It is in this third book of the Bone saga that Jeff Smith turns his comic-book romp into an epic. Scholastic is re-releasing the entire nine-book Bone series, originally published as a series of comics. The releases are coming maddeningly slowly, but the impressiveness of Smith’s accomplishment continues to increase with each one.

     The title character here is Fone Bone, who looks like a cross between Casper the Friendly Ghost and the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Fone Bone’s near-complete featurelessness contrasts with the extraordinary detail that Smith brings to his work on every other character – and every background. Fone Bone is Candide indeed – Voltaire’s character’s name comes from the Latin word for “white,” and the pure-white Fone Bone has all the charm and naïveté you could wish for in a guide through this increasingly complex and dark-hued fantasy.

     Fone Bone and his two cousins – onetime rich miser Phoney Bone and happy-go-lucky Smiley Bone – continue to make their way through The Valley in Eyes of the Storm, with Phoney and Smiley providing most of the comic relief in a volume that is far more serious than the first two. Phoney continues as the constant schemer, always looking for a way to make a quick buck – or in this case, a quick egg, since The Valley’s economy is poultry-based. Smiley becomes a deeper character here, showing both cleverness and bravery, though even they are always mixed with a kind of joyful ineptness.

     But the primary focus in this book is on Fone Bone and the farm people with whom he is living: no-nonsense Gran’ma Ben and her gorgeous granddaughter, Thorn, with whom Fone Bone has fallen in love (a patent absurdity when you look at the two of them – they are clearly not even the same species – but an absurdity that seems less ridiculous by the midpoint of this book, when they walk hand-in-hand). It is in Eyes of the Storm that the sense of menace of the first two books becomes full-blown, and readers learn some extremely important information that picks up on bare hints from Book One and Book Two. The revelations are communicated with tremendous effectiveness, through Smith’s spare dialogue and his perfect rendering of his characters – and through the exceptional coloring work of Steve Hamaker, whose contribution to the best panel in this graphic novel (a large one, occurring at the climax of the main revelation) equals Smith’s own.

     It would spoil the plot of Eyes of the Storm to reveal too much of it, but suffice it to say that it plugs certain holes opened in the first two books and opens a great many new ones, turning the Bone saga into true heroic fantasy. Somehow the absurd-looking Bone cousins, especially Fone Bone (who has the least to him, graphically speaking), here attain solidity, and Fone Bone begins to assume the mantle of a hero. There are tantalizing hints here of how heroic he will be in later books. The only irritation in Eyes of the Storm is its extremely abrupt ending – forcing entranced readers to wait overly long for Scholastic to bring out Book Four.

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