Rose by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess – graphic novel review

"Rose" by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess.
“Rose” by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess.
Rose by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess is a graphic novel that I really wanted to like, and mostly liked, but which had some issues that bothered me. Rose is a prequel to Jeff Smith’s groundbreaking Bone series. Not nearly as long a tale, Rose lasted fourteen issues, and was later compiled as a graphic novel.

It takes place decades before the events of Bone and doesn’t involve any of the citizens of Boneville. This may be the first mark against the book for me. The Bone characters were comical, sarcastic, and ludicrous. They provided much needed relief from the serious events around them. There was no comic relief in Rose. It was a straightly told account of the origins of the Dragon Queen Mim, the creation of the world, and The Lord of Locusts.

We meet Rose, the granny from the Bone series, as a young princess in training to be an Awakened One. Her sister Briar is not as talented. She is a bitter, snarky, jealous thing that is slowly revealed to not only be an agent of The Lord of Locusts, but also a victim as well. Her perception of events has been warped from youth and seen in the worst and falsest light through dreams that the Lord of Locusts sent to her. Her envy turns into hatred and leads her to bring the rat creatures into the valley as well as control the dragon, Balsaad. Rose overcomes her sister to save the day, but by showing pity at the end she betrays the valley and the Red Dragon.

If you like Charles Vess’ artwork, you will likely be delighted by this series. His work for this series earned a nomination for an Eisner. The landscapes were breathtaking, the settings and mood most dramatic, and the colors gorgeous. He was perfect for the job. Fans of Bone, however, may be disappointed to visit Jeff Smith’s world and see it through another’s eyes. Some of the complaints online that I’ve read mirrored this concern.

Because Rose was more serious than Bone, I don’t disagree with Vess being selected as illustrator, however, but I found his faces irritating in this series. His faces are the least favorite aspect of his art for me, but in this series they were worse than usual. They seemed flat and misshapen here and there. Then he’d draw a panel with a dragon set against lush vegetation and all would be forgiven.

For all the stunning artwork, the tale was a slight one. At its most basic, it simply introduced us to the human characters of Bone in their youth, including the hunky Captain of the Guard, Lucius. A dragon rebels; a dragon is slain. Briar betrays; Briar is defeated.

The problem with prequels is that they are constrained by the material that preceded it. They can’t resolve events that were plot points later in the timeline. Also, the story lacked charm. The Bone family couldn’t be introduced to this valley yet, but there were no other characters that could serve as replacements. Even the rat creatures were angry and serious. This was simply not Bone.

However, Rose was a good tale and fans of the series will likely still enjoy it. I just wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to Smith’s greater work, Bone.

Release Date: Month 01, 0000 (USA)
ISBNs: 1888963107 (9781888963106)
Publisher: Cartoon Books
Language: English

MySF Rating: Three point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 80%


Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (props)
Language: 1 (TV swears)
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 0 (Rose & Lucius’s relationship was rather sad, actually)
Violence: 3 (cartoon violence, dragon sushi, death, suspense)

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