Shadowbridge: Exquisite imagery and magic

Gregory Frost Shadowbridge, Lord TophetShadowbridge by Gregory FrostShadowbridge by Gregory Frost

“One of the figures, in a long coat, leaned around from the back edge and held up a disk as if about to hand it to her. It looked like a shell strung on a necklace that, instead of circling his throat, plugged into his ears. What could that possibly be? And what legend could it be from?

The next figure above him didn’t help her, either. Painted black, with spiked blue hair, sharp-tipped ears and red eyes like flames, the figure’s identity eluded her, too.”

In the first chapter of Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge, a god animates a statue to talk to Leodora. Leodora is a wanderer, a storyteller, a collector of stories and a shadow-puppeteer who performs in male guise as she journeys along the various spans of Shadowbridge. The world of Shadowbridge itself is the greatest creation in this book.

The bridge is the world, basically, a series of spirals and spans, each with its own collection of cultures, subcultures, mythology and magic. Leodora, her mentor Soter and the musician Diverus are outcasts, for various reasons, from their own spans. Shadowbridge has strange customs, gods who play an active role in people’s lives, and many different stories about how their world was created. The story of how Leodora and Diverus fit into their world is mostly a mystery. Leodora is the daughter of Bardsham, the most famous shadow-puppeteer, and in Soter’s opinion, Leodora surpasses him. Leodora can see to the heart of a story, changing it to make it live and breathe for the audience who watches it. The god, though, warns her that she is “rattling the darkness,” and this is not a good thing.

Frost shares the stories Leodora collects, and also tells us about her childhood. Leodora has ridden a sea-dragon, stolen the mysterious “coral man” figure, and been cast out of her village for being a witch. She inadvertently rescues Diverus from a brothel where the clients partake of vivid dreams created by afrit, who feed upon the energy of beautiful boys.

Shadowbridge features a wonderfully described world. Frost has a gift for the unique but apt metaphor, such as, “Melancholy joined her then, a late-rising twin,” or this passage, where young Leodora and her beaten-down aunt eat dinner while they await the return of her uncle:

… While Leodora wondered about Soter’s ghosts, so her aunt appeared preoccupied with where her uncle might be. Their unease they shared as if it were a condiment, but neither would speak of it.

Magic blows across the spans of Shadowbridge like moist ocean breezes. There are afrits, sea dragons and a parade of monsters that travels to the end of time — a parade that sweeps up Leodora and Diverus. There is magic in each span and in the dragon bowls that line the bridge itself.

I liked this part of the book very much. I enjoyed the mystery of Leodora’s parents, and her destiny; and I loved the stories she sought out. I didn’t care as much for the characters. There is little warmth or caring demonstrated by the principals, and secondary characters are one-note: the Downtrodden Woman, the Vicious Uncle, the Hidebound Villagers, the Jaded Pimp (which, as I write it, looks like it should be the name of a shady pub in another epic fantasy somewhere). It isn’t that characters aren’t interesting and much as it is the degree of distance they have from the reader. The hard-drinking Soter escapes being a stereotype only because of the importance of the secrets he is holding, which are gradually being revealed as the book ends — on a cliffhanger.

The story of Leodora, Diverus and Soter is completed in the sequel, Lord Tophet. I hope these characters will open up more and become more engaging, but even if they don’t, I will still read it, just to be carried into the world created by Frost’s shimmering, precise prose.

Sprung from a timeless dream, Shadowbridge is a world of linked spans arching high above glittering seas. It is a world of parading ghosts, inscrutable gods, and dangerous magic. Most of all, it is a world of stories. No one knows those stories better than Leodora, a young shadow-puppeteer who travels Shadowbridge collecting the intertwining tales and myths of each place she passes through, then retells them in performances whose genius has begun to attract fame… and less welcome attention. For Leodora is fleeing a violent past, as are her two companions: her manager, Soter, an elderly drunkard who also served Ledora’s father, the legendary puppeteer Bardsham; and Diverus, her musical accompanist, a young man who has been blessed, and perhaps cursed, by the touch of a nameless god. Now, as the strands of a destiny she did not choose begin to tighten around her, Leodora is about to cross the most perilous bridge of all – the one leading from the past to the future.

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MARION DEEDS is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

View all posts by Marion Deeds

5 comments

  1. Nice review. This one of those books I keep finding myself pondering, but I’ve never picked-up because its just not the kind of fantasy I ususally enjoy.
    There is just something intriguing about living on bridges. Why is that I wonder? And the cover illustration makes it even more I inviting. Or is that just me?

  2. Greg, it’s not just you. Bridges are fascinating and so is the idea of living on them — and I thought the cover art really captured the spirit of the story.

  3. I really loved this book, particularly (like Marion) for the creation of an amazing world. I liked it more than Marion did, too, and would have rated it much higher (at least in retrospect; maybe that’s because I’ve already read Lord Tophet and know what to expect).

  4. well I guess its back on my TBR list.. :)

  5. I tried to read this once and stalled out — never could figure out why. Certainly the writing was beautiful and the bridges were intriguing and the plot themes were ones I usually like.

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