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Shadowbridge, by Gregory Frost
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2008
Review Posted: 2/18/2008
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10

Shadowbridge, by Gregory Frost

Book Review by Pete S. Allen

Have you read this book?

Not long ago, I read a couple books by Gene Wolfe, based on the recommendations of readers I know, and writers I like. I was disappointed by the books in question ("Wizard" and "Knight" if you're curious) and found out in further discussion by Wolfe fans that these weren't the books of his that I should have read -- well, humph. At any rate, what I had been looking for was "literary fantasy," which the MFA people at my school will tell you is an oxymoronic term. I don't buy that, but I am interested in seeing what people do describe as literary fantasy.

I don't know if anyone has described Gregory Frost's Shadowbridge that way yet, but if not, let me be the first. Shadowbridge is a beautifully written, marvelously imagined, and skillfully executed piece of work. The story follows Leodora, a young woman who travels the world as a puppeteer, trying to live up to the legend of her father, a mater puppeteer, whose servant Soter accompanies her. Along the way, they manage to pick up a young man who is transformed from a mute idiot into a talented musician at the whim of a god. Because that's just the sort of thing that happens here.

The world of Shadowbridge itself is as much a character as the three I've just introduced. Most of the inhabited areas of the world are great spans of bridgework, endlessly criss-crossing the world, some higher than others and the layers may be infinite for all we know. Below are great oceans, with some islands, and perhaps continents in places, though this is questionable. It reminds me superficially of Niven's Ringworld, partly of course because of the habitable world lying in long bands (though the scale's a bit different), but mostly because of the completely new way of thinking about reality -- in this case a fantasy reality. Each area of the Shadowbridge is known as a span, and each has its own language and culture, with wars and trade both common. Travelers between the spans can employ the magic of the spans to speak the language, and gods and monsters are not unheard of.

Initially fleeing from her abusive uncle, Leodora flees her own span and is soon caught up in the romance of her father's shadow, and rises to the challenge of becoming as great a puppeteer as he had been. She is visited early on by a god, whose tale she is challenged to tell. It is this blend of storytelling within the story that gives us a better knowledge of the spans of the world of Shadowbridge -- not a new device to be sure, but one used in this book seamlessly and naturally. Leodora's traveling partner and business manager is Soter, an old drunk who performed the same task for her father. He critiques each performance, manages her affairs, watches her back, and keeps secrets from her. Diverus is the boy they eventually rescue and whose music becomes integral to Leodora's shows.

So since I brought it up, what makes this fantasy literary? Depth, characterization, style? Yeah, all three actually. If you want to use the loose definition that plot is less important than character and style, I'd be ok with that, though Shadowbridge is well-, and (importantly) consistently plotted. The characters all have their own issues though, and the one who I feel suffers the most is poor Diverus, the idiot-turned-musical genius. His talent is more along the lines of an addiction he's given in to, and seems less than a blessing, as does his sudden awakening. This is actually the only complaint I have about this book -- Diverus' manipulation by the gods is something I'm uncomfortable with as a reader, possibly because it's a bit deus-ex-machina, possibly just because Diverus doesn't seem to have a lot of control.

Finally though, as I mentioned, it's simply a beautiful read. I picked up the book out of the pile of review copies one night and was hooked in minutes. The prose is rich and flowing, the characters are sympathetic and fully developed, and Frost's language and world are breath-taking. I'd recommend this book to the aforementioned fans of Gene Wolfe, and if they promise me they'll read this, I promise I'll try another of his. As well, any one who appreciates a rich fantasy with a well thought-out storyline and new and interesting worlds to explore will find themselves drawn into Frost's imagination, and held there by his prose. If there's a drawback to this book, it's simply that it ends on a cliff-hanger, and I have no idea how long it is before book two comes out
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Comments on Shadowbridge, by Gregory Frost
Posted by Yodacat on 3/1/2008
It was an okay read, IMO. Good writing, stereotypical characters, but better than 90% of the fantasy out there. My main objection is the decision by the publisher to split the book in half, for no reason other than to double sales. I hope this isn't a trend. By the time part two comes out, I doubt I'll remember what happened in part one. So will I buy part 2? Probably not.
Posted by Doobie on 2/25/2008
One of the finest fantasies I've read in some time.