Continuing my read-through of Jeff Smith’s delightful Bone series. This week I am covering volume 8, Treasure Hunters.
Bone has long talked about the kingdom of Atheia, the city-state that Thorn is heir to the throne for. In this volume, after passing the invisible threat of the ghost circles, the characters finally lay eyes on the place.
And, to put it bluntly, it kind of sucks.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything any of the characters find of interest. Phoney Bone finds out the people actually use gold coins, and there is an actual hidden treasure somewhere. Plus, he can make some more money keeping a giant bee from messing with merchants selling exorbitantly-priced black market water.
Fone, accurately, points out the bee is only causing trouble because the merchants are selling very little water at very high prices.
OK, so Phoney is bound to be caught up in his own plots and get into trouble. At this point, the reader knows Phoney’s plan to make a mint off the treasure, get himself declared king (even going so far as to have Smiley and Bartleby engrave Phoney’s face onto the handful of gold coins he manages to get after scaring the bee off), and then high tail it back to Boneville is bound to fail. The reader likewise knows Smiley will somehow get caught up in the mix, but somehow come out of it OK…though that “come out OK” part will have to wait for the next (and final) volume.
What the reader may be a little surprised about is how far Atheia has fallen. Now, granted, the kingdom has been trying to get along without the royal family for the past 15 years or so. Problems are to be expected. Many a play by William Shakespeare has all problems caused by simply having the wrong man (and its always a man) on the throne, or have all problems solved by the right man (and its always a man) dispensing wisdom from the throne. Atheia, in the absence of queens (and it appears the queen is always the important one), has fallen under the control of a corrupted sitckeater named Tarsil. Tarsil was disfigured and lost an arm to the dragons, so he has since outlawed all dragon reverence while instituting what looks like some sort of military martial law.
Yeah, that can’t be good.
Factor in the ghost circles have driven all survivors to Atheia from throughout the valley to a refugee camp outside the gates (hence all the giant bees), and the place is a disorderly mess. The refugee status gives Smith the chance to draw all manner of cartoon weirdos throughout the volume, such that it is hard to believe the Bone cousins need to disguise themselves to sneak in. They actually do, and in a way that actually ends up getting them caught, but that was more to do with Smiley’s insistence on sneaking Bartleby into the city inside a “borrowed” hay cart.
It sure is nice seeing a Bone other than Fone successfully stand up to Gran’ma Ben, who believes Bartleby–who’s been nothing but helpful–needs to stay outside. Smiley won’t abandon his best pal, just as Bartleby won’t abandon arguably his only pal.
Speaking of Gran’ma Ben, I am awfully curious as to why she was no longer the queen. Yes, she was exiled in order to care for Thorn in hiding, but she also was no longer the queen while Thorn’s mother (nicknamed “Moonwort”) was still alive and ruling the city. Does the queendom pass down to a new woman when she comes of age? I sure wish Smith had explained that one.
He does have a nice character moment where Ted the Bug arrives to tell Thorn what kind of woman her mother was. Thorn’s mother had libraries and parks built, for people to enjoy. When asked what she built as queen, Gran’ma says simply, “Walls.”
The volume ends in a bad place. Tarsil’s men have captured Thorn and the Bone cousins in separate pairs, with Fone and Thorn helping a little girl being abused by one of Tarsil’s people, and Phoney and Smiley being betrayed by the greedy merchants while Phoney himself is up to a greedy scheme. And that’s not even getting into the big bee fight.
There’s more about the metaphysics of the story here as Gran’ma’s old teachers all take a moment to try and tell the group more, but I think I might be inclined towards Fone Bone’s point of view on them: they’re kinda full of crap. While Thorn doesn’t know everything, she clearly knows a couple things the old master doesn’t when she simply namedrops the Crown of Horns.
Which just so happens to be the name of the next and final volume…
Come back here next week for the conclusion to the Bone saga, Crown of Horns.