This third chapter in Smith’s “Bone” is where things begin to take off. Smith’s complete story is revealed piece by piece, chapter by chapter, but Book 3 promises at least more explanation that we were given in either “Out From Boneville” or “The Great Cow Race.” “Eyes of the Storm,” for me, marks a discernable shift in Smith’s narrative.
Most of his time so far has been taken up by worldbuilding and introductions, throwing in several amusing gags with almost Looney Toons or Peanuts-like quality to them to draw out the length. Some might argue (and I will) that “The Great Cow Race” is an extended gag, one that’s certainly amusing, but delivered little more than chuckles and guffaws.
“Eyes of the Storm” is where Smith begins to get serious.
Eyes of the Storm
Smith’s third chapter is about 150+ pages longer than its predecessor. That’s important to note, since here is where the various subplots and particular character arcs begin to take shape.
Thorn starts to learn more about her past from Gran’ma Ben and perhaps even what some of her dreams mean. We learn she cannot recall these earlier memories, which is something I wish Smith has emphasized a little bit prior to this. We know, from Books 1 and 2, that these dreams are typically of Thorn as a child, alluding to a past history she is unaware of. But the nature of how and why she cannot recall these memories is something we’ll learn later.
Lucius Down starts becoming a more prominent figure in the story. Simply introduced as the proprietor of the Barrelhaven Tavern, Lucius is slowly and methodically revealed as a friend of Gran’ma Ben’s and a man with a somewhat mysterious past. Not “mysterious” like Thorn; he knows his past. “Mysterious” as in “unknown to the reader but hinting at importance.” One line in particular, which I shall not reveal here, adds a hefty dose of weight to the character in retrospect. It’s a line which new readers may gloss over or think is unimportant, perhaps as a quick way for Smith to toss in some “depth” for the guy. Y’know, something like “I was orphaned” or “my wife died” or some hint at a depressing past that shaped who the character is presently. A surface reading may reveal that, but with the benefit of a past reading, I took note of the line and understood what Smith really meant by it. I hope it means Smith had a fully fleshed-out Lucius when he started writing; if he a complete character in mind, it shows.
Even Smiley and Phoney’s narrative trajectories take off in an ever-so-slightly different direction in this book. Owing Lucius big-time after the end of the Great Cow Race, Phoney makes a wager with the man. This actually leads to perhaps the most entertaining portion of the book, where Lucius and Phoney “divide” Lucius’ bar in half, each selling beer and food from their portion of the bar. Should Phoney sell more than Lucius in an allotted space of time, his debts to the barrel-chested man are wiped clean. Should he lose, his debt to Lucius, already fairly hefty, is doubled.
Moments like these are where Smith and his narrative absolutely excel. Watching Phoney and Lucius agree on their bet in the rain while Smiley prances around them on an imaginary horse is both whimsical and purposeful, blending narrative exposition that reads well and enhances the storyline with a hint of humor that makes me smile even if it is simple. Images like a dripping wet Gran’ma Ben staring at Fone Bone and Thorn as they discuss dreams makes for brief, powerful seconds of story, entire ideas captured in one panel.
Even moments that should feel bogged down, and certainly would be in the hands of a lesser creator, instead come across wonderfully. The latter half of the book sees Gran’ma Ben discussing some of Thorn’s past with Thorn and Fone Bone. Normally, this type of scene would reek with boredom, page after page of exposition by a writer who just needs to start shoveling in mounds of explanation to get a plot moving. It should be dull, a painstaking process to get through.
Amazingly, it isn’t.
This is where Smith’s art comes in. Moment by moment during the conversation between Thorn and Gran’ma Ben is captured gorgeously. Characters point, stand and sit, cry, raise their voices. Wordless panels capture uncomfortable, tense silences between the two as Thorn processes the overwhelming amount of information. Smith seems to know he’s suddenly handing his readers a lot—like Thorn, they need time to process all this new information as well—and draws out the scene as long as he needs to.
Even Fone Bone’s involvement helps with this. He doesn’t do much in this chapter; his role is largely relegated to listening to Gran’ma Ben and comforting Thorn when she needs it. In this way, Fone acts like the reader, eagerly lapping up the stories being told and acting a little dazed at being tossed into this large plot of royal secrecy. And I don’t mean “dazed” in a bad way. Smith just does a nice job at showing Fone Bone understanding how out of his depths he is but how his concern for Thorn propels him forward nevertheless.
Wisely, however, these sequences of conversation are broken up with the aforementioned Lucius vs. Phoney Bone plot. Smith also seems aware that he cannot eternally hold his readers’ attention with extended sequences of dialogue and description, so he cuts to something a bit lighter. Shortly after a huge revelation by Gran’ma Ben, we see Lucius describing the contest between himself and Phoney to his loyal patrons. We also see tiny pieces of the villainous Hooded One, our story’s mysterious antagonist, and their interaction with an unseen master. All of this is interspersed between the dialogue between Gran’ma Ben and Thorn. A rhythmic motion can be found through the whole book, this pattern of Gran’ma Ben/Thorn, Lucius, Phoney, and on and on.
These pieces work because they’re intentional. Gran’ma Ben dropping a monster of a revelation on Thorn—that Thorn is, in fact, the lost princess of the fallen kingdom of Atheia—is immediately followed by the Hooded One and their master, which is then followed by Lucius announcing the bet. Smith allows ample time between plotlines to get caught up on others. Just when you might need a breather, Smith gives it to you. Nowhere does the plot feel jumbled in these sections.
This is, as I said, mostly found in the chapter’s latter half. An earlier piece of story doesn’t work quite well. After discovering Thorn and Fone Bone discussing dreams, Gran’ma Ben storms out into the rain. Eventually, readers will learn the importance of dreaming and that Thorn’s dreaming gives hints into her past Gran’ma Ben would rather her not know. For now, all we see is an angry Gran’ma Ben stomping out into a storm, shortly followed by Thorn and Fone Bone. This soon leads to them discovering nearby Rat Creatures and a sequence where they fight their way through a mob to return to Gran’ma Ben’s farmhouse.
The entire scene feels a little odd and pointless. We already know Rat Creatures are starting to swarm the Valley, so this is nothing new. We also know Gran’ma Ben’s a tough old bird, so seeing her fight and kill monsters isn’t exactly news to readers either. Considering the scene really goes nowhere, as it starts and ends at the farmhouse, I’m a little confused as to its inclusion. While many of the other parts in the book seem absolutely vital to the plot, this is one section that I’m not entirely sure of. It feels like action for the sake of action and represents the one part of the plot where Smith’s rhythmic storytelling fails. Other sequences leave you thoughtful or intrigued by what happens next; running his characters into a pack of Rat Creatures feels like Smith trying to add some unnecessary tension.
Other than this, those pacing issues I mentioned earlier don’t seem to exist here. Much like “Out From Boneville,” out story is divided into interwoven sections: scenes focusing on Fone Bone, Gran’ma Ben, and Thorn are woven in between scenes focusing on Lucius, Phoney, and Smiley. While the latter trio don’t contribute to Smith’s overarching “Thorn is a princess of a fallen kingdom and is being hunted by monsters” plot, their tale is still entertaining enough to warrant a sizeable amount of story. I was never disappointed when the plot shifted to the bet between Lucius and Phoney. Some later plot elements spring from this particular narrative thread, so while it isn’t quite as essential, “Lucius vs. Phoney: Dawn of Hangovers” is far from a pointless storyline.
“Eyes of the Storm” is certainly an improvement over “The Great Cow Race.” Unlike Book 2, this third chapter actually moves the plot along in a massive way. Smith’s introductory and silly sequences are giving way to the epic fantasy narrative that will take up the rest of “Bone.”
On the chapter's last page, as Gran’ma Ben, Thorn, and Fone Bone strike out for Barrelhaven, Gran’ma Ben says, “Let’s go.” It almost feels like a summons for the reader as well: follow us. These three books have largely been a prologue. The real story lies ahead.