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Friday, July 25, 2008

"Lord Tophet" by Gregory Frost

Official Gregory Frost Website
Order “Lord Tophet
Read An Excerpt
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s
REVIEW of “Shadowbridge
Read FantasyBookSpot’s INTERVIEW with Gregory Frost

AUTHOR INFORMATION: A graduate of the writing program at the University of Iowa and of the Clarion Writers Workshop, Gregory Frost is a fantasy/science fiction author of six novels (Shadowbridge, The Pure Cold Light, Tain, Remscela, etc), various articles, and numerous short stories including the collection, “Attack of the Jazz Giants & Other Stories”, and has been nominated for nearly every major award in the speculative fiction field—namely the Hugo, Nebula, James Tiptree, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial, International Horror Guild and World Fantasy awards. Greg is also one of the Fiction Writing Workshop directors at Swarthmore College.

PLOT SUMMARY: Daughter of the legendary shadow-puppeteer Bardsham, Leodora has inherited her father’s skills . . . and his enemies. Together with her manager Soter—keeper of her father’s darkest secrets—and a gifted young musician named Diverus, Leodora has traveled from span to span, her masked performances given under the stage name Jax, winning fame and fortune.

But Jax’s success may be Leodora’s undoing. Years ago, following a performance by Bardsham, the vengeful god known as Lord Tophet visited a horrific punishment upon the span of Colemaigne and its citizens, a reprisal inflicted without warning or explanation. And as the genius of Jax gives rise to rumors that Bardsham has returned, Lord Tophet takes notice and dispatches a quintet of deadly killers to learn the truth behind the mask.

Now, upon the cursed span of Colemaigne, where her father achieved his greatest triumph and suffered his bitterest tragedy, Leodora is about to perform the most shocking story of all…

CLASSIFICATION: Set in a completely fictional fantasy world where humans can rub shoulders with gods, demigods, elves, kitsunes, mer-folk, afrits, ghosts and sea-dragons, “Lord Tophet”, like its predecessor “Shadowbridge”, is a novel of myth, legend and fables that should appeal to fans of “Grimms’ Fairy Tales”, Hans Christian Andersen, the Arabian Nights, Homer’sIliad/Odyssey”, the Panchatantra, Neil Gaiman,
Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales, and Pan’s Labyrinth.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 222 pages divided over three parts and an epilogue. Narration is in the third-person and alternates between the shadow-puppeteer Leodora, her friend and musician Diverus, and her mentor/manager Soter. “Lord Tophet” is a direct sequel to “Shadowbridge” which ended on a cliffhanger, and concludes the duology. Gregory has sketched out a third Shadowbridge novel, but it will feature different characters and a different setting. July 29, 2008 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of “Lord Tophet” via
Del Rey. The cover is designed by David Stevenson with Thomas Thiemeyer providing the illustration.

ANALYSIS: Creatively “Shadowbridge” is a marvelous work of invention, embodied by the imaginative Shadowbridge setting—a world of linked spiraling spans of bridges on which all impossibilities can happen—the intriguing art of shadow play, and the many enchanting tales & fables that are interwoven into the main narrative. Yet because of issues that I had with not being able to emotionally connect with the characters, worldbuilding that I felt could have been more penetrating, uneven pacing/narrative structure, and an unsatisfying cliffhanger, my feelings for the novel were mixed. Nevertheless, I had a similar experience with
Catherynne M. Valente’sIn the Night Garden” and came to appreciate the book much more after completing the duology—an experience I hoped to have after finishing “Lord Tophet”. Alas, reading “Lord Tophet” did not make me appreciate “Shadowbridge” any more than I already did, but the duology’s conclusion is a far better novel than its predecessor…

Upon finishing “Shadowbridge” I speculated that it would have been wiser if the story had been released as a single novel instead of a duology. How wrong I was. By limiting the story’s setup—which includes introducing the world and characters, developing backstory, and establishing themes, etc—to “Shadowbridge”, “Lord Tophet” was better able to focus on telling an engaging narrative and rewarding the reader…and the difference between the two books is just astounding. Where “Shadowbridge” felt like a disjointed collection of short stories that overshadowed the main narrative and seemed to go nowhere, “Lord Tophet” is able to immediately dive into the meat of the story which involves the title character, Tophet—the god of Chaos—and his role in both Leodora’s past and her future, while resolving conflicts and providing answers. And as a direct result of “Lord Tophet” not having to deal with any setup and concentrating instead on completing the duology, plotting, pacing, structure, and even prose is significantly tighter and more cohesive than it was in “Shadowbridge”.

Creatively “Lord Tophet” is just as, if not more, imaginative than its predecessor with Edgeworld, the Brazen Head—a talking pendant that speaks in riddles “or at least in ways that are most obscure”—and the inverted world of Pons Asinorum, a world that threads all worlds, some of the novel’s most memorable creations. Stories meanwhile, remain just as important and fascinating as they were in “Shadowbridge”, and my favorite part of the duology. The key difference this time is that the stories actually complement, instead of overshadow, the main narrative, which by itself reads like a fable including a poetic quality to the writing, insightful moral lessons, and a satisfying fairy tale-like ending that both resolves issues and tantalizes with unspecified resolutions :) As far as the actual stories—“The Tale of the Two Brothers”, “The Tale of Meersh and the Sun God”, “The Dream of a Fortune”, “Soter’s Tale”, and “Tophet’s Tale”—there’s not as many of them in “Lord Tophet” as there were in “Shadowbridge”, but the highly amusing “Tale of Meersh and the Sun God” featuring Penis is a personal favorite, while the tales of Soter and Tophet are two of the most powerful stories in the duology because of the shocking answers they provide.

To nitpick, characterization and worldbuilding is still not as deep as it could have been, there’s a romance in the novel that could have used a little more development, and parts of the story are predictable because of the mythological nature of the book. But because “Lord Tophet” is so much more well-rounded than its predecessor, it was a lot easier to ignore such issues this time around and just enjoy the ride :)

CONCLUSION:Shadowbridge” has been lauded for its imagination & storytelling, described as award-worthy, and praised as a classic-in-the-making, and such acclaim is not wholly without merit. But comparatively, “Lord Tophet” is a much better novel. It is also a different novel, so while “Shadowbridge” may provide the groundwork and is necessary to the duology, and “Lord Tophet” is a direct continuation of “Shadowbridge", the two novels should be treated individually. After all, it is “Lord Tophet” that actually delivers the payoff—including answering such questions as the fate of Leodora’s mother and father, the secrets that Soter has been hiding, The Coral Man, the Agents, and a demigod’s warning—and does so spectacularly. So if you haven’t read “Shadowbridge” yet or had difficulties with the novel, you may want to reconsider. For not only is “Lord Tophet” far superior to its predecessor and a richly rewarding experience, it is also one of the few must-read fantasies of the year…


Peta said...

"one of the few must-read fantasies of the year…" High praise indeed - I'll add it to the list!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the preview. I loved Shadow Bridge so I'm excited to hear that its sequel is even better. I'm interested to read how Frost ties up the fates of Leodora and the rest of the characters.

Thanks for the post,

Robert said...

Peta, I think the book is totally worth the high praise and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

John, you're welcome :) If you loved Shadowbridge, then I think you'll find the sequel even more satisfying...


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