Continuing my read-through of Jeff Smith’s delightful Bone series.
This week, I am discussing Book Four, The Dragonslayer.
In the previous volume, Phoney Bone let slip he was, by profession, something of a dragonslayer. Now, the reader doesn’t need to be told Phoney has never killed a dragon in his life. Furthermore, most of this particular storyline seems to revolve around the idea that Phoney is simply using the people of Barrelhaven to stock his own personal larder and then somehow slip out of town with a lot of newly accumulated wealth and return to Boneville with his cousins.
What’s interesting about this whole arc is that it probably represents Phoney’s usual activities back home in a microcosm. Phoney sets himself up as something. He acquires a large stockpile of wealth in his scheme, taking advantage of people he’s burned before and probably should know better. He can dismiss naysayers both public and private (Lucius and Fone Bone from the looks of things here). Smiley may or may not be helping out, but at the very least Smiley will take advantage of whatever Phoney is up to to improve his own standard of living. Then, just as Phoney’s reaches the height of hubris, something goes really wrong for him and he ends up back on the bottom where he presumably belongs.
Seeing Phoney in action is really something else. While Fone makes it clear he finds Phoney’s actions disgusting and greedy, Lucius tries to challenge Phoney directly and publicly (we could get the idea Fone has maybe tried this back in Boneville and knows how futile this is and will mostly just wait for Phoney to screw up on his own). The big issue is dragons. Phoney insists that they are real and dangerous. Lucius insists that is not the case, but Lucius used to insist dragons were fictional. Both of these statements are false. Dragons are real, but they’re benevolent and helpful. Phoney uses this insight to lower the position of Lucius in the town by pointing out Lucius was lying in the past as he is someone who knows full well dragons are real.
And why does Lucius lie about dragons? Because, apparently, it makes finding out that dragons are real much more magical than being told from day one that they exist.
And of course Phoney’s plan doesn’t work. It doesn’t work, not because of Smiley, but because Ted the Bug and the Big Red Dragon get involved. Ted thinks Phoney’s plan, which Ted knows full well won’t kill anyone (Phoney says so himself), needs something else, so he arranges for the dragon to get caught in Phoney’s trap. The dragon himself seems rather nonchalant about the whole thing. He doesn’t get angry or even annoyed. In fact, when rat creatures attack, he assists the valleyfolk.
And there are points in Phoney’s favor. He may be greedy, but he’s not inclined towards hurting anyone, at least physically. He doesn’t want to leave the valley without his cousins. He furthermore uses Thorn’s sword to cut the dragon loose.
Plus, Smiley is starting to make sense to me as a character. His greed isn’t pronounced, but he’s mostly the guy who will help his cousins do whatever his cousins ask of him. Fone asks for favors of a more benevolent nature, like assistance with the thing he found hiding in the barn. Phoney asks for help with another greedy scheme. Smiley readily agrees to help both of them, which may be why no one holds much of a grudge against him.
As for the other Bones, Fone and Smiley make a new friend, the rat creature cub that will eventually be named Bartelby and become a good ally to Fone and his friends. Fone is witnessing the more heroic aspects of the story so far, in that he witnesses Gran’ma and Thorn battle first the two stupid rat creatures that always turn up, and then their chieftain Kingdok. Kingdok looks like a furry cross between a T-Rex and Pac-Man. His style of fighting Gran’ma seems to consist of grabbing her with his mouth and tossing her in the air. He carries a club of some kind but doesn’t seem to use it.
So, he probably doesn’t miss it too much when Thorn cuts his club-welding arm off.
After that, Thorn needs time alone, away from Gran’ma, whose been lying to her, or at least concealing things, about her destiny. There’s more to Thorn than being a simple princess. The creepy hooded figure is in service to an entity called the Lord of Locusts, and Thorn is a prize for that particular whateveritis. Thorn has some sort of special powers involving dreams.
And man oh man, are there are a lot of hooded figures. Besides the main antagonist under the Lord of Locusts are a group of holy warriors called Stickeaters. They aren’t trusted but do show up to help out when the rat creatures attack. One advantage of having the series colorized is it does make it easier to tell the different hooded factions apart due to the color of their robes, but that’s about all I’ll say about that. Lucius knows who the Stickeaters are, but denies being a member. He asks if he looks like a holy man to anyone. No, he does not.
The volume ends with the town under attack while the townspeople are mostly away looking for their dragon sacrifice, Fone and Smiley off with the as-yet unnamed Bartleby, and a war breaking out between the rat creatures and their human allies (yes, they have some), and the people of Barrelhaven. The valley was supposed to be a treaty zone. It isn’t anymore.
The next volume brings in one of the more enigmatic characters, Rock Jaw, who may be a friend or a foe. We’ll have to wait and see when we get to Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border.