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Lord Tophet: A Shadowbridge Novel by Gregory Frost
Review by Sam Lubell
Del Rey Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345497598
Date: 29 July 2008 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Lord Tophet is the second half of Shadowbridge, a two-volume novel. It is an unusual fantasy, about the magic of stories, set in an atypical fantasy world comprised mainly of multi-level bridges. There are no kings, wizards, or quests for the magic MacGuffin. What's left is a fascinating coming of age story about a young woman whose character combines that of both her parents, but is very much her own person. Leodora is more than a storyteller, she is a collector of stories. This allows the author to present a rich mythology as the stories Leodora tells and the ones she collects are interwoven into her own story, at times even merging together.

In this book, Leodora, having learned that her father was Bardsham was the greatest of all puppeteer/storytellers, has embarked on her own storytelling career as the masked puppeteer Jax. She has employed her father's old manager, Soter, and a musician, Diverus, with a god-given gift to play any instrument. Lord Tophet picks up where Shadowbridge's cliffhanger left off, with Leodora having entered the Dragon Bowl, an arena from which the capricious gods on very rare occasions select mortals to give them special gifts. From there, Leodora is transported to the Edgeworld where she is told that Colemaigne, the part of the bridge to which she had traveled with her puppet troupe, was blighted by Tophet in the guise of Chaos. She chooses an unknown prize and awakes to find an amulet on a necklace that answers any question, albeit sometimes with obscure answers. At the same time, the gods magically restored many of the town's buildings, including the theater where Bardsham had once performed. This restoration enables Leodora to present her puppet plays as "the girl touched by the gods." Gradually, as Leodora collects stories, she learns that theater had been outlawed ever since Lord Tophet, while searching for Bardsham, had destroyed the buildings and turned many of the townspeople to stone.

For the most part, this is a book with three strongly developed characters: Guilt-ridden Soter; naïve Diverus, who gradually falls in love with Leodora; and Leodora herself. A fourth character--the theater owner--gains depth as the story progresses. The two books have a nice texture, and the idea of Shadowbridge itself is fascinating as are the stories and legends Leodora collects and tells. Until almost the very end there is no traditional conflict with the villain, most of the action takes place through the characters' minds and memories. The actions of the gods are never really explained—neither why they needed such a roundabout way of dealing with Lord Tophet nor why they did not provide the same sort of help to Leodora's parents. And the final conflict with Trophet and the aftermath seems rushed. Still, it is worth noting that the way the final interaction with Tophet proceeds is very fitting for a book that is essentially a story about stories.

Lord Tophet is a skinny 215 pages and Shadowbridge a mere 255. There a plenty of books longer than 470 pages. Some readers may be put off by this practice of essentially chopping a novel into two parts in order to get readers to pay twice for the same book. (Especially since the first half, Shadowbridge, seemed more satisfying than this concluding volume.) Readers who want an unconventional fantasy should seek this out duology as should readers who want an innovative coming of age story.

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