Author: Mark Rose
Gregory Frost’s LORD TOPHET is the completion of a two-book adventure started so magnificently in the opening SHADOWBRIDGE. In the first book, we discovered the young woman Leodora, who became a successful puppeteer under the stage name of Jax.
As she traveled the various worlds, all of which are sited on huge bridges that span an apparently endless sea, we learned more of her background and that of her traveling companions: the odd and taciturn Soter, and the god-touched musician Diverus. Jax’s search for something — perhaps news of her long-lost mother and father, perhaps just for something she can cling to — left the reader aching for more at the conclusion of the first book.
Now, at the conclusion of the second, one must hope that Frost finds a way to resurrect this storyline and continue these remarkable tales of the traveling puppet show and the unique societies of the bridgelands and the capricious gods who occasionally touch down in the bridges’ attached dragon bowls.
In this novel, Jax, Soter and Diverus continue on their travels until they encounter the devastation of Lord Tophet, a Lord of Chaos who devours spans and those who live on them, who leaves in his wake nothing but blight and destruction. Finally, after almost a book and a half of avoiding the subject, Soter tells Leodora of the fate of her mother and father, and how Lord Tophet was directly to blame. Soter only wishes to go elsewhere, to avoid the Lord, but it is not to be.
These are books about stories, as Frost often throws in a marvelous and lushly detailed parable right in the middle of the text, often as a part of Jax’s performance. These tales all have a timeless feel of myths of all lands, and make one think of Sir James George Frazer’s THE GOLDEN BOUGH, with its catalogue of common religious themes spread among fables and stories. Frost’s storytelling — both the stories within the story and the overlying tale of Jax — is intricate, detailed, filled with surprising twists, and emotionally felt. The fantastical elements are expertly interwoven and prevent one from thinking, “Well, that’s just too crazy” — a common failing among many modern fantasies today.
This duology is a perfect read for those who love and understand the arcs of storytelling, and how sometimes, a good story is better than even having one’s own adventure. Very worthwhile. —Mark Rose