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Lord Tophet: A Shadowbridge Novel
Gregory Frost
Del Rey, 225 pages

Lord Tophet: A Shadowbridge Novel
Gregory Frost
Gregory Frost is a graduate of the writing program at the University of Iowa and of the intensive Clarion Writers Workshop at Michigan State University. He attened the Sycamore Hill Writers Workshop at NC State University and, in the 90s along with Judith Berman and Richard Butner, took it over and moved it to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. It has since returned to the mountains of North Carolina.

Gregory Frost Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Shadowbridge
SF Site Review: Shadowbridge
SF Site Review: Attack of the Jazz Giants and Other Stories
SF Site Review: Attack of the Jazz Giants and Other Stories

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Tammy Moore

Lord Tophet is the second and final Shadowbridge novel. A challenging, twisty story that moves between interlaced narrative threads as the characters move between the arching, alien Spans that make up their world.

In Shadowbridge, Leodora escaped the repressive, abusive -- but safe -- Span of her childhood in order to become the secretive, talented shadow-puppeteer Jax. With her manager Soter and her gifted, other-worldly musician Diverus, she travelled the Spans, collecting myths and inspiring comparisons to the legendary shadow-puppeteer Bardsham wherever she went.

Flattering, dangerous comparisons, to brilliant but doomed Bardsham who was her father and although it has been years since he disappeared, his enemies still hope to capture him. Enemies that draw ever closer as the wandering troupe finds itself on Colemaigne, where Bardsham held his final performance and the cruel Lord Tophet blighted the Span for harbouring him. Only Soter knows the true story of all that happened but, even as he struggles to protect his ward, he cannot bring himself to tell the truth about what happened all those years ago. If Leodora is to find the answers she seeks then she must find them herself. Who is Lord Tophet and why has he hounded Bardsham and his child so relentlessly?

Lord Tophet is a folktale from a world dreamt into being by a fish and a god. It is many stories within one, each story adding a thread to the narrative until, at the end, we finally see the full picture. The main story is that of Leodora, orphan and hero, avenging "son" (while pretending to be "Jax" the boy) and destined hero. She has made a career out of collecting and retelling myths, marking the common elements that inform the stories from Span to Span, but she is still caught off-guard to find her own life becoming myth. Her history becomes mutable: altered to suit the needs of the story, to suit the symbolism of the Span that repeats it. Like Suald -- a character in one of Leodora's tale -- her life is changed to suit the story.

The Hero has a Thousand Faces after all, and Gregory Frost does seem to have been influenced by Joseph Campbell's work on monomyth and the Hero's Journey. Lord Tophet begins in the Belly of the Whale and makes a stop at many of the seventeen stages before it ends at The Freedom to Live. Campbell's work on the monomyth has been criticised over the years, but applied intelligently -- and Gregory Frost's work is certainly that -- it works well in this sort of story.

There's also a strikingly folklorish element in the construction of Gregory Frost's world. It is a land of bridges, dreamt into existence and populated by water-spirits, living puppets and old gods -- and he makes no attempt to explain their existence or create a logical system of magic. It is strange, exotic and lush.

It is possible that the conclusion of the story could seem a little too convenient -- with everything falling into place just in time -- but within the framework of the story it makes absolute sense. By that point the story is fully realised and Leodora is knowingly fulfilling her role it in. Narrative inevitability dictates the story could not end otherwise.

Copyright © 2009 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.

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