~by Gregory Frost
I finally managed to get my hands on a copy of Lord Tophet, the second book in Gregory Frost's wonderful Shadowbridge duology. It took me a bit of extra effort to find, but it was more than worth it. I very much enjoyed the first book, Shadowbridge which end with a cliff-hanger of the worst kind. The two books should really be read one after the other and it's unfortunate that I had to wait so long to read Lord Tophet (not to mention all of the books I managed to work in in between the two) and I do think I lost some of the nuances.
Lord Tophet picks up immediately, and I do mean immediately, after Shadowbridge. Leodora and her small troupe (consisting of Soter, her guardian and manager, and Diverus, her musician) have made their way to Colemaigne, a span that was cursed and partially destroyed after the world-renowned puppet-matster and story-teller Bardsham fled it, pursued by Lord Tophet the Destroyer. Leodora's fame continues to grow--her performances as Jax are said to rival that of Bardsham, her father. But with her quick rise to prominence she has caught the attention of Lord Tophet who is determined that all connected to Bardsham will suffer his wrath due to the past transgression. Soter knows of the danger and tries to keep the troupe hidden and on the move; a task that is becoming increasingly difficult with Jax's continued success. To complicate things even further, Diverus and Leodora being to understand how much they mean to one another and just how much they are willing to risk for the other.
I enjoyed both Shadowbridge novels immensely. I particularly loved the interplay between the stories, the storytelling, and the storyteller--the interconnectedness of everything was beautifully executed. The ending of Lord Tophet seemed to come rather abruptly, but it was entirely appropriate and extremely fitting (the last couple of twists in the plot and the ending were perfect for this story). I did find Lord Tophet to be a bit more shaky in its point of view than Shadowbridge was. But, we do get a lot more answers than questions, and Frost manages to maintain a strong sense of mystery and wonder even when all is revealed.
Frost draws from numerous folklore traditions, both original and established. The Shadowbridge novels give a delightful feeling of vertigo because they seem vaguely familiar--it's like being reminded of a story you only half remember but know you've never heard before. However, the books are strongest in their marvelous world-building. While the story of Leodora, Diverus, Soter, and Lord Tophet has been concluded, Frost does have a third Shadobride book planned. I look forward to entering into that world again, and in the meantime have no problem recommending Shadowbridge and Lord Tophet as one of the most original and delightful fantasies I've read in quite a while.