There's something a little daunting about writing a review of this series so late in the game. A lot of bloggers I follow faithfully have already read this one and written about it eloquently, and I am not sure that I have anything to add to the conversation, to what has already been said.
My own personal reaction? I have loved all three books so far. Not with a "OMG EVERYONE READ THIS NOW!" kind of fervour; it was more a thorough enjoyment, a complete immersion in the story. And I think that happened for two reasons: I have complete trust in where Jeff Smith is taking me with this story, and I feel at home with the plot and ideas and characters. A long time fantasy reader, I recognize the conventions, but the story isn't bound by them. It's a humourous and loving treatment of them.
Overall plot: the three Bone cousins, Fone, Smiley and Phoney are on the run after being booted out of Boneville for some unspecified (at the beginning) transgression on Phoney's part. We do know the exile is almost certainly well-deserved. After a cloud of locusts overtakes them in the desert, the boys are separated and Fone (our hero) finds his way into a strange valley after a run-in or two with some rather odd creatures. Once there, he finds his way to Thorn, a young woman who lives in the valley with her Gran'ma Ben, and here really the adventure is just beginning.
To discuss each separately for a moment: Out from Boneville is our introductory volume, in which we meet most of our major characters, good and bad. Something that can always be challenging in a series is making sure that everyone's invested up front, that the characters are clear and the plot is engaging, but there are no infodumps. There's no problem with that here. One thing leads naturally to another (er, being lost in a desert leads to locusts, I guess?) and by the end of the volume we know where we all stand, with the standard mysteries in place (who is Gran'ma Ben? What's the deal with the dragon? Who is the creeeeeepy hooded dude, and what does he want with Phoney? Will the stupid, stupid rat creature ever get a quiche?)
The Great Cow Race is awesome. We start to get a good handle on the characters, there are some cracking funny moments, and we start to get into some emotional depth. It was in this book that I decided that Gran'ma Ben is my favourite character, supplanting the dragon.
Eyes of the Storm takes a much darker turn. Though it was hinted at before, it's eminently clear that there's a much deeper problem here, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions. In fact, I think, despite some of the answered questions there are more unanswered at the end of this volume than at the beginning, including the pressing one of what the heck Phoney is up to and why he's a target. I have an even softer spot for Lucius the bartender by the end of this volume, too.
Overall, I really enjoy the central characters, especially Fone Bone (and as above, Lucius, Gran'ma Ben and the dragon). Fone is a perfect character for us to see this world and this story through. The art is fabulous, expressive, evocative, and so easy to follow. It's a true graphic novel in that the story is inseparable from the art; neither the text nor the art could stand on its own. I can see exactly why this series appeals to people of all ages. Though it's checked out of the library most often by kids, it's made the rounds through the blogosphere because of adult bloggers; and I recommend to everyone who enjoys a good fantasy quest story. Even if, or perhaps especially if, you have never read a graphic novel before. The next three will be up soon!