Bone, Book Eight: Treasure Hunters. By Jeff Smith. Graphix/Scholastic. $19.99.
The Heartstone Trilogy, Book 3: Queen of Oblivion. By Giles Carwyn & Todd Fahnestock. Eos. $25.95.
Sometimes it is the smaller people – both the characters and the readers – who end up with the bigger adventures. And there are few bigger than Jeff Smith’s Bone, which in the eighth of its 10 books is inexorably approaching its climax. Smith’s work gets steadily darker as the story advances, with the tremendously bleak landscapes shown in the prologue to Treasure Hunters a perfect metaphor for the increasingly bleak inner landscapes of so many characters. The Bone books were created in black and white, but Steve Hamaker’s color work in the Scholastic edition vastly enhances what was already a truly magnificent graphic-novel series. Flashes of humor remain even at this late stage of the epic tale, but Treasure Hunters has nothing rollicking about it: it is a story of privation and portents, danger and dragons, robbery and rat creatures, thugs and threats. Princess Thorn has by now grown into her role as warrior and potential queen, and she and her followers in the old city of Atheia are looking for ways to overthrow the evildoers who now control it, especially Lord Tarsil, enemy of the old rulers and of the dragons who long supported them. The Bone cousins are in the thick of things, with Smiley seeming less knuckleheaded than ever while Phoney continues his neverending search for wealth and people from whom to fleece it. Fone Bone, diminutive hero of the tale, remains its centerpiece and by now seems fully human even though he retains the appearance of an all-white plush toy. “The two worlds of the dreaming are out of balance,” one character warns here, and that means the worlds of living and dead are coming into contact in unseemly ways, with the Lord of the Locust bringing forces of evil ever closer to triumph – while Thorn learns of the mysterious Crown of Horns, which sits on the tipping point between the waking and dreaming worlds and keeps them in balance. But before Thorn can use her knowledge, Atheia comes under attack – and a grand epic battle is shaping up as this installment ends. It will be particularly difficult for young (or older) readers who do not already know the Bone saga to wait for the next book in the series – this one concludes with a real cliff-hanger.
There were cliff-hanging endings of a different sort in the first two books of The Heartstone Trilogy as well: Heir of Autumn and Mistress of Winter. Now this heroic fantasy for adults moves smartly to its conclusion in Queen of Oblivion (which followers of the first books’ seasonal references might have expected to be called Queen of Spring or something similar). Heir of Autumn focused on Brophy, who ultimately sacrificed himself to save the city-state of Ohndarien and keep the force known as Black Emmeria at bay. In Mistress of Winter, Brophy’s concubine, the sorceress Shara, failed to free Brophy from the horrifying dream-sleep into which he had passed, but another sorceress – the mysterious and ambitious Arefaine Morgeon – succeeded, returning Brophy to the world as a vicious monster, deeply corrupted by all those years in a horrifying dreamworld. Things began to look worse and worse for Ohndarien – and are not much better in Queen of Oblivion, in which a sinister voice is leading Arefaine and the city-state itself toward doom. This voice is connected with evil within another city, Efften, and it falls to Brophy (who has fought back to heroism from the effects of the dreamworld) and Shara (who has fought off her own despair at what happened to Brophy) to find out what Efften’s silver towers hold and how to prevent Arefaine from enabling its return to the world. This brief description belies the complexity of Giles Carwyn and Todd Fahnestock’s plotting, and also gives short shrift to their intermingling of grand-scale issues of good and evil with more personal ones of love, sex and jealousy. Unfortunately, for all their strengths, Carwyn and Fahnestock ultimately offer little that has not appeared in heroic fantasy before. Again and again, cliché rears its dull head: “She had to keep moving or she would never make it.” “Anything that can be done can be undone.” “I never stopped loving you. Never.” “So what happens now?” Well, what happens now – or then, or anytime – is a series of separations, reunitings, battles, magical conflicts, confrontations, and all the trappings needed in a tale such as this. The problem is that there have been many tales such as this. Queen of Oblivion gets a (+++) rating for its plotting and some sure (if scarcely deep) characterization, but it remains firmly a genre novel, concluding a genre series that never aspires to interest anyone beyond readers already enthralled by many other stories of the same type.
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