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Shadowbridge    by Gregory Frost order for
by Gregory Frost
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2008 (2008)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Gregory Frost's Shadowbridge, the first in a two-book story, is a most unusual fantasy set in a most unusual world. Shadowbridge is spanned by 'infinite bridges that uncoil' across its oceans. High up on one, we meet shadow-puppeteer Leodora, a brilliant traveling storyteller who wears a mask to hide her femininity (in a world that restricts women's roles). As Leodora roams - along with her drunken mentor and manager, her boxes of puppets, and a Coral Man - she collects stories from folk of each span.

Frost takes his readers back and forth in time to reveal Leodora's childhood on a backwater island, where she grew up tarred with the same brush as her rebellious mother Leandra. Though Leandra had long since left her home, Soter returned her small daughter to her grandparents and stayed on. After the grandparents die, Leodora lives under the thumb of her brutal uncle Gousier. One day she finds the puppets of legendary storyteller Bardsham amongst Soter's belongings and shows so much natural talent that he is persuaded to teach her the art. Eventually, like her mother, Leodora also flees her home, accompanied by Soter, the puppets, and a Coral Man that was pulled out of the ocean by fishermen.

Interspersed through Leodora's account - and adding another layer to the main fantasy - are the stories she tells others, enchanting creation tales, myths and legends that she gathers on her journey. After thoroughly introducing readers to Leodora, the author blends in another main character, Diverus, a simpleton whose path will intersect hers. Sold by his own father, Diverus is left chained in a Dragon Bowl, in an attempt by his owner to win a blessing from the gods. After he's sold again to a demonic variant on a brothel his path crosses Leodora's and their destinies intertwine.

In Shadowbridge - an elegant fantasy from a master of the genre and a welcome change from the typical quest - the gods intervene in subtle and enigmatic ways, appearing to both Leodora and Diverus to influence their choices. This first in a two-book story has a dramatic cliffhanger of an ending, increasing my curiosity about where it can possibly go next. I eagerly await the sequel, Lord Tophet.

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