Looking back, if there was one criticism we had with the first Bone book, it was that there’s a feeling that the reader is thrown into the middle of the story, since Fone, Phoney and Smiley, the three Bone cousins, are first encountered running away from an unseen angry mob for reasons we have to discover as we go along. It’s a nonsense criticism though of course – the dramatic impact is obvious and it provides a weight of history that, by the time you get to this second book, is evidently central to the Bones’ woes.
It seems at first that the cousins are ready to make a new start. But with the eponymous village cow race building to a crescendo of bovine betting, Phoney Bone can’t help but attempt a fix that’ll net him huge profits. By seeding suggestions that the regular favourite (actually a granny and not a cow at all, but we haven’t the space to explain it here) is well past it, and that a mystery new cow (Smiley in a pantomime cow outfit) is clearly going to win, he hopes to make a killing. Knowing what we know of Phoney Bone and all greedy archetypes, however, his comeuppance seems close at hand.
The characters of the main players are deepened and enriched in this book – there’s no-one new to muddy the waters and there’s only this single situation of the cow race for Smith to craft his story around. But it’s done in great style: the Bones characters are simplistic and two-dimensional, but there remains a deep vein of mystery around them, not least because of the strange rat creatures that seem to be gathering to capture (and try not to eat) them, and the shady dragon that’s lurking in the background, seemingly protecting the Bones from harm.
It’s a wonderful piece of work, perfectly pitched between drama, comedy, fantasy and mystery, with a true all-ages mix of superficial simplicity and layered depths. We’re already looking forward to part three.
Other titles in the Bone series:
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