Bone: Rose by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess
Is there any fantasy series in recent memory as beloved and praised as Bone? Jeff Smith began writing about the Bone cousins in 1991, but it was probably the publication of the books in color versions by Scholastic that truly launched Bone into the pop culture. It's a great sprawling story with a powerful conclusion. Bone: Rose is a prequel that fleshes out the story of Gran'ma Ben as a youth (i.e., Rose), a story that weighs heavily on the Bone saga proper.
Bone: Rose follows the story of Rose and her sister Briar, who are princesses in the Valley. It's an interesting prequel -- having read the Bone saga itself, there is not really suspense in reading Bone: Rose, and if one read Bone:Rose before reading the existing Bone saga one would remove some of the greatest reveals of that epic. Having thought about it I would save Bone: Rose for after reading the existing Bone saga, there are pleasures in reading Bone: Rose even knowing how it will wind up.
Unlike the existing Bone books, this story is entirely weighed down with the knowledge of what is to come. So there is almost none of the light-hearted adventure of the first few Bone books (that helped to inject some humor into the series as a whole). Part of that difference in tone is also due to the art by Charles Vess which is fantastic, but has more a traditional fantasy or medieval age look to it than the art that Smith did. I think that complements the prequel status of the book as the artwork implies a story from further back in time, more removed even from the already fantastical world of the Bone books.
For any fan of the Bone series I would recommend this book. It revisits many of the same characters who show up in the Bone saga and previews the battle between Lord of the Locusts and the people of the Valley in those books. And even knowing that Bone: Rose is hemmed in by the existing plot of the Bone saga, Smith does a great job of navigating those existing plot marks while still creating plenty of involving moments in this book. The story is really about choices and Smith does a pretty good job of setting up the rivalry between Rose and her older sister Briar, including their rival affection for Lucius, the Captain of the Guard. The ability to act in dreams (the "dreaming eye") seemingly separates the sisters and like the existing series, is integral to the battle with the forces of the Lord of the Locusts. Rose is very convincing, a young woman who faces difficult challenges. Briar is not quite as well drawn (there are moments where I just didn't feel her actions were adequately motivated) but almost as well. The sibling rivalry here is both familar and epic.
The prequel is also a bit more violent in many scenes, mostly because of Vess' approach to the artwork. It's not overkill, but his somewhat more realistic style does heighten the intensity of the action scenes. It' not something I'd imagine I'd give to someone under around 9 or so but I am guessing it wouldn't be too much for 5th grade and up. (I'm better at figuring out age appropriateness for things my daughters have actually read as opposed to guessing when they might be able to read it.)
NOTE: Scholastic Publishing provided a free copy of this book for review purposes.