Lord Tophet by Gregory Frost

Published by Del Rey
August 2008
ISBN 978-0-345-49759-8
240 Pages

Lord Tophet is the second half of the Shadowbridge duology, picking up virtually where Frost left Leodora at the conclusion of Shadowbridge. Her fate was left up in the air literally, as we learn she is transported to something of mix between a higher reality and a dream world where stories have even more power than on the spans of Shadowbridge.

Much like its predecessor, Lord Tophet the novel concerns itself very much with the power, charm, and value of stories. Perhaps more so in this second volume in the sequence, the value of stories is emphasized. In order to get out of the dream-like higher reality, Leodora must tell more stories and mores stories, just one more story. The nebulous aura of the higher world has an affect on Loedora, making her and Diverus think they have only been there for a day.

As with the Shadowbridge, one of the strongest aspects of the novel are the stories within the novel. In many ways, these stories possess fable-like qualities relating a life lesson. In other ways, they are just purely engaging. I wonder now if Frost has had these stories nestled in his head for a while and appropriated them for this set of books. Not that such an appropriation is a bad thing; if anything it speaks to Frost’s great ability at storytelling.

The setting is another powerful aspect of the story – whereas Shadowbridge logically took place on a massive bridge, the setting here in Lord Tophet is on something of archipelago. This could be a nod to Le Guin’s Earthsea, since that is such a landmark story in the genre. The islands setting also present a parallel the nature of stories in general. In different hands, stories can have shifting and more floating, almost stream-of-conscious nature to them rather than the structure and stability of something like a bridge.

There is a strange attraction and romance between Leodora and Diverus that proves complicated, but not in the sense that it bogs down the story. It is a consistent complication in tone with the story Frost tells, as a whole. Frosts development and spotlighting of these characters continues along the same well-crafted vein in which he started in Shadowbridge. Rounding out the triptych of main characters is Leodora’s mentor and father-figure Soter. His attitude is somewhat darker in this book, but no less consistent with the story itself.

Fortunately much of the creative and fantastic ideas Frost conjured up in Shadowbridge were only the start of more to come. The previously mentioned islands are a great counterpart to Shadowbridge and the stories themselves can rightly be considered things of magic. Leodora is also in possession of a talking doorknocker in the shape of a Lion’s head through much of the novel. Like many similar talismantic items in fantastic literature, the Brazen Head offers little in the realm of straightforward answers. Again, Frost shows his great ability to remain thematically consistent in his storytelling – for Leodora’s stories are rife with multiple interpretations.

One of the more surprising (and enjoyable for that matter) stories Leodora told through her puppets detailed a talking Penis, specifically Leodora’s most recurring character Meersh. This of course is open to much interpretation, but works as parable and as a humorous story as well. This illustrates just how varied the art of story can be, from serious god and world altering to a talking penis.

The grandest stories recounted in Lord Tophet; however, fittingly are related to the title character himself. For much of the story, Tophet played the role of dark puppet-master, directing forces against Leodora from the shadowy corners of the story. His full reveal is somewhat of a downer, but still effective. Soter relates in wondrous detail a story to Leodora about Tophet and her father, the Great Bardsham. It is a powerful story and illustrates a hinted at depth to Soter’s past. The other story is Leodora’s (somewhat) expected interpretation of Tophet’s story that makes for a rousing climax to the novel and perhaps her story arc.

Even though Frost has stated these two books were intended as two separate books, one can’t really judge or fully appreciate Lord Tophet without the first part of the story. Though Frost examines the power of story from different perspectives in the two novels, the cliffhanger nature of Shadowbridge and continuation of the story in Lord Tophet really gives me the feel as a larger story and a split novel. That having been said, Lord Tophet is solid conclusion of the story Frost began in Shadowbridge, and the two volumes together will likely (as I said in my review for Shadowbridge) generate a great deal of discussion when genre awards are tallied and bandied about.

© 2008 Rob H. Bedford


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