Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The bridges to everywhere

kw: book reviews, fantasy, alternate worlds

Will Rogers famously said, "Invest in land. Nobody is making any more of it." In Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost, somebody has been making, if not land, a good substitute: immense bridges that connect islands in a world of archipelagos. Whether newer bridges are still being built is left open.

The people's creation myths posit the sudden appearance of the bridges out of dreams, the infertile dreamer(s) then becoming fertile and peopling the planet.

I found myself puzzled as, having read 80% of the book, I considered the setting-up just about finished, until I re-checked the cover where it states there is a second book to come. Thus, this first novel, to be followed by Lord Tophet (probably next spring), primarily introduces the characters: Jax (stage name of Leodora), a gifted storyteller whose medium is shadow puppets; the magical musician Diverus; and Leodora's old mentor Soter. They share the setting with demons, elves, and stranger creatures.

For me, the attraction is the stories. Frost has evoked new ways to clothe old archetypes in the psyches of an imaginary world. It has been said that there are but four stories, and we re-tell them with new characters and new environments that suit our generations. Actually, whether there are four or four dozen, every story is re-told many times in every generation. Just think of Romeo & Juliet, Paramus & Thisbe, and every story of star-crossed lovers. Today's preferred stage is the tragic lives of "celebrities", re-telling their foibles upon the tapestry of our imagination, ennobling or debasing them as needed.

Though Jax is a puppeteer, only the merest sketch of puppet technique is mentioned. The power is in the storytelling, and at this, author Frost is a master. Jax/Leodora collects stories, and the scenes where new stories are told are easily the most powerful: Jax and Diverus in a haunted park, learning a new creation myth from a were-fox, or Leandra on shipboard, hearing a large water-snake tell how death came to the snakes.

This then is the lesson of the book. A story teller is a story maker. The stories we are told are like groceries that we re-combine and cook up into new stories, the stories of our own lives.

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