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Jeff Smith and Charles Vess
Cartoon Books paperback $19.95

review by Amy Harlib

Jeff Smith, creator of the comic book character and title Bone belonging to an ongoing popular series of magical and witty adventures, combines his writing talents with renowned fantasy illustrator Charles Vess to produce a three-part miniseries gathered into a graphic novel, a prequel set some 50-odd years before the above-mentioned stories. Rose, complete in itself yet also serving to introduce newcomers to the Bone saga, features gorgeous art and superb storytelling that synergistically equals more than the sum of its parts. The collaborators spin a yarn rich in the tropes of folklore and fairytale but with a depth of character and emotional resonances that will satisfy readers of all age levels who appreciate the fruits an imaginative endeavour in full flower.

Rose packs 160 glossy, gloriously colourful pages full of a tale set in an invented parallel world of medieval-type cultures where, in the city of Atheia, two teenage princesses of the Harvestar lineage, Briar and her eponymous, slightly younger sister, in preparation for eventually assuming the mantle of Queen, train with the Veni Yan masters in various occult arts mostly concerning dream magic. The siblings, rivals in the pursuit of their studies and both in love with the handsome hunk Captain of the Guards, Lucius Down, end up playing very different roles in the crisis that follows.

While training to understand dreaming, Princess Rose gets tricked into releasing Balsaad, a terrifying dragon that then besieges a small town of the Northern Valley. Rose did this unaware that the dragon was actually a minion of an ancient enemy, the Lord of Locusts, who seeks to enslave all living beings in the realm. Assuming responsibility for her actions, Rose seeks her advisor, the benign Great Red Dragon who counsels her about the method necessary to destroy the renegade. The solution to the rampaging monster problem comes... with a terrible price to be paid.

Before Rose, her sister Briar, Lucius, Balsaad and the Great Red Dragon all have their fates intertwine, the reader gets treated to a delightful prologue that depicts the creation myth of their world. Then, when the plot gets underway, we encounter: the very interesting Euclid and Cleo, Rose's great Dane canine companions with whom she exclusively speaks telepathically; some very fascinating lessons in dreaming magic; the intriguing sentient Giant Hairy Rat Creatures (to play a large part in the Bone series); and surprising betrayals, treachery and twists in the tale along with the refreshingly feisty Amazon-like heroics of the titular character that culminate in a very touching, bittersweet, emotionally complex conclusion.

Rose with all its trappings of heroic fantasy, resounds with mythic resonances while thoughtfully dealing with deeper issues concerning: the consequences of the use of magical powers; learning from the misjudgements of youth; and how small personal dilemmas have a ripple-in-the-pond effect, spreading to affect the fate of nations and the world. Jeff Smith's skilful writing - his vivid character portrayals and clever plotting - blended with Charles Vess' beautiful, detailed and dynamic art and exquisite colour palette, results in a wonderful (in every sense of the word) magical adventure sure to please Bone cognoscenti and anyone who appreciates imaginative, fantastical tales. Rose represents a flowering of creativity worthy to be a prize addition to any garden of graphic novels and gathering of fantasy literature in general.

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