The most recent edition of Rose, from Scholastic, runs the Bone title prominently on the cover from which it was previously absent, a cover now drawn by Jeff Smith, uniting two features once deliberately kept separate. Rose is connected to Bone, where she’s much older and known as Gran’ma Ben, and other characters from that series also feature, but this is a far more spiritual and complex story, although still broadly fantasy intended for an all-ages audience.

Rose and her sister Briar are coming of age, and it benefits everyone if they undergo testing sooner rather than later, despite Briar displaying little in the way of psychic connections. This is the cause of constant simmering tension between them. Smith induces a fairy tale atmosphere by relying on dialogue that’s simple and to the point, either moving the story forward, foreshadowing or manipulating. It’s convincing, though. No-one’s going to argue with a dragon instructing “Don’t try to escape or I’ll find you in the woods and fry your bones”. However, Smith’s plot is limited by tying into what happens in Bone. There’s only so far he can take certain people and the true villain of the piece is so easily apparent.

Charles Vess is an artist almost without peer when it comes to drawing the fantasy trappings. His wild winter scenery has a mottled beauty and an attention to detail that carries over to ornate decorations. His horses and dogs have an independent life beyond those usually seen in comics, and his dragons can be fearsome or friendly, with his perfect copy of Smith’s simpler Red Dragon an anomaly among the textured backgrounds. Vess doesn’t take the same pleasure in drawing people, who have flat, pinched or lopsided faces and sometimes elongated necks. However a stunning spread such as a dragon attacking a village will evaporate any memory of strange looking people.

Smith applies the capricious nature of fairy tales all the way through. A victory must have a cost, no matter how appalling it is, and while he attempts to bolster that with fluff about balance, it still comes across as a random condition to serve a plot. He does surprise by avoiding where surely everyone figures that aspect will head, and Rose throughout is very likeable, her strength of character consistent and surely not to be tempted, but Rose is destined to remain the curate’s egg. It won’t have the right tone for staunch Bone fans (and Boneville citizens are entirely absent), yet won’t hit enough buttons for the committed fantasy fan either. There’s some lovely art, though.