Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Review: Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost

As I struggled to figure out just where to start this review, I continually found myself thinking on how some other people have reacted to Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost. In this world of on-line reviews, Shadowbridge has so far provoked a wide-range of reactions. Patrick St.-Denis couldn’t even finish the book while Jay Tomio singles it out as one of the best of the year. I read the whole book, so I obviously thought more of it than Pat did, but I can’t claim to have enjoyed it enough to be throwing it on any best-of lists…yet.

Shadowbridge is a story about stories and a world’s greatest story-teller in particular. It’s a world made up of endless bridges, with each of the countless spans a magical world unto its own – related to and inspired by other spans, yet unique. A young woman, Leodora, is developing into the world’s greatest storyteller, surpassing even the father she never knew. She runs from the tyranny of her past, seeking to know and tell all the world’s myths through her shadow-puppetry while reconciling with a lack of knowledge of the past.

Literally and thematically, Shadowbridge is a world of bridges. Jay delves into this more eloquently and completely than I could hope to, so I won’t go into much detail. Suffice to say that this is a book of bridges – the characters are bridges, the world is made of bridges, the focus is on the bridge, the change, the journey, but and the beginning and end of these bridges may be as important as the bridges themselves.

The plot itself is a rather strait-forward example of a young orphaned woman escaping her past under the guidance of a paternal figure who knew her parents. There are the expected hints of mysterious and sinister events in her parents’ lives that appear to be catching up with Leodora and her companions. She is the abused orphan who finds greatness and appears to be the key to a much larger plot. While my description of the framing arc is less than flattering, it is both serviceable and interesting – told with skill allows for deeper revelations of our storyteller’s stories.

The prose is economically poetic in its frame of stories within stories. Just as The Old Man and the Sea is not just about a man fishing in a boat, the myths, legends, stories of Shadowbridge offer much more than initially meets the eye, often of a decidedly disturbing nature. It’s the thematic depth of these stories and their interlacing with the over-arcing plot that highlight the ambitions and strengths of Shadowbridge.

Frost approaches his worldbuilding from a different angle – through the myths of the people and Leodora’s stories while honoring the relative ignorance and mystery of his main characters. This approach contrasts with the typical epic fantasy with its pages of detail and various methods of infodumping. It is refreshing to see a well-written fantasy book at only 272 pages– of course this is a duology that easily could have been published as a single volume, which is annoying to a paying audience.

Surficially, Shadowbridge is seemingly strait-forward and even plain in its execution, though it’s told with skillful and poetic prose. It’s the depth beyond the surface that provides a hint of genius and a sense of powerful understanding. The problem is that Shadowbridge is not complete – for the time being, it’s a bridge to nowhere. The concluding sequel, Lord Tophet, will be published in summer ’08 and should bring a conclusion to a potentially great story. I won’t anoint Shadowbridge with either greatness or mediocrity until I can see how Frost brings it all together – however, the potential is vast. For that reason, this book is particularly tough to rate – it deserves a good rating with skill of its telling and wonderful set-up it provides, but it is incomplete without its second half. Therefore, it gets something of a cop-out at 7.5 – it could be over 8, but if the concluding volume doesn’t produce, Shadowbridge will suffer for it.

Related Posts: Review of Lord Tophet

3 comments:

TK42ONE said...

Sounds like a even-keeled review to me. I'll put it on my "maybe" list. And seeing as how many are in my pile, I may never get to it, but I'll at least think about reading it.

Patrick said...

Ken, I'm glad you enjoyed it. As for me, it's not that I hated it. It's just that this book did absolutely nothing for me.

What can you do, eh!?!;-)

Neth said...

-tk42one

I think that this duology has the potential to be something special.

-Pat

No worries. Opinions and reactions vary.

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