My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As far as areas of improvement go, I’ve got none to point out. Jeff Smith tells an epic fantasy tale with dialogue that covers the gamut between fun and serious, keeps characters dominated by one trait from becoming wholly one-dimensional (cough Phoney Bone cough), and comes up with an ending that resolves a lot of conflict without slipping into the realm of excessively convenient.
And the art…I don’t have too many excuses to bring this up reviewing books, but oh man oh man I love tight inks so much. I actually prefer well done black and white to color, and Smith’s art is a fantastic example of why. The variations in line width, the crispness that is balanced by the use of variable-width brushstrokes. Which goes without saying in traditional media but it’s harder to achieve in digital, and something that I think is missing from a lot of webcomics. So it’s nice to see regardless of how this book was produced.
The thing that took most getting used to, art-wise, was the Bones (there are essentially three title characters, you can see the main protagonist on the cover). They’re a lot more cartoony than the rest and are drawn with simpler, broader strokes than a lot of the other characters, especially the humans. It’s a tricky thing to work with and Smith does a fantastic job of integrating the Bones into the surrounding; there are moments of surreality where they look the slightest bit out of place, and those tend to go with the behavior of one character (cough Phoney Bone cough) that doesn’t jive with the dominating culture, so it even works in favor of the storytelling.
There were a few panels that looked kind of odd to me, but overall the composition, foreground/background balance, and movement are solid. I’m not an expert in sequential art so I couldn’t nitpick anyway, but I suspect an expert would be having too much fun with the story to fault the occasional imperfect panel.
The story itself doesn’t completely redefine the fantasy genre, and if you want to be really pedantic you can call the Bones a twist on Tolkien’s hobbits, but originality has never been the most important thing to me. Smith tells his story well with a varied cast of characters that add a lot to the landscape they live in, and who maintain this neat balance between younger and older appeal. The one sticking point might be the development of the human girl—we don’t see a lot of it, so it seems like she jumps a lot from stage to stage, and while it is kind of convenient to say this I’m giving Smith the benefit of the doubt in having a secret rich and complicated story for her that we miss out on because of the perspectives we do see.
Everything else aside, I find it hard to imagine someone not enjoying this story unless they have a major major problem with fantasy (or ink).
Now that that’s all done, I’m just going to take ten minutes to ogle the rat creatures. It may be a crime to have enemies this cute. (NOTE: they look better in B&W than color. I will be investing in the omnibus after all.)