Review by Frank Plowright
Jeff Smith deliberately constructed this sequence of Bone as a respite from the darkness of the previous book, The Dragonslayer. Fone and Smiley Bone had been concealing a young rat creature, here named Bartleby, in the barn, and decided to return it to the wild so that it could reunite with other rat creatures. This proves more problematical than they imagined, their first encounter with others being the dim pair that have bugged the Bones for quite some while.
We learn early why it is that the rat creatures are so obsessed with targeting Phoney Bone, and meet a new character who’ll have a continuing presence. Roque Ja (call him Rock Jaw at your peril) is an immense lion who considers his domain to be the entirety of the mountains. While he’s king of the mountains, and a fearsome creature, he’s not keen to match himself against the most powerful of the creatures seen to date.
At first it appears there’s a lot of pointless wandering, but as the tale continues and the same characters recur in different places, and different ones are thrown into the mix it’s apparent how tightly Jeff Smith has plotted the sequence. There are some great comic set-pieces here that indicate his background in animation. So does the army of small creatures that come to accompany the Bones, and this book has a stronger Disneyesque feel than any other in the series. That’s accentuated by Roque Ja, whose imperious nature and speech patterns instantly bring to mind George Sanders’ portrayal of Shere Khan in Disney’s version of The Jungle Book.
By the end of the book Smiley and Bone have learned a fair bit, some of which will prove useful in the following Old Man’s Cave.
As with the other Bone books, this has been re-issued in a colour edition, enabling Smith to make some adjustments to the dialogue. It also forms part of the massive One Volume collections of the entire Bone story. Once again, the options are monochrome or colour.