Creatively Shadowbridge is a marvelous work of invention, embodied by the imaginative Shadowbridge setting — a world of linked spiraling spans of bridges on which all impossibilities can happen — the intriguing art of shadow play, and the many enchanting tales and fables that are interwoven into the main narrative. Yet because of issues that I had with not being able to emotionally connect with the characters, worldbuilding that I felt could have been more penetrating, uneven pacing and narrative structure, and an unsatisfying cliffhanger, my feelings for the novel were mixed. Alas, reading Lord Tophet did not make me appreciate Shadowbridge any more than I already did, but the duology’s conclusion is a far better novel than its predecessor.
Upon finishing Shadowbridge I speculated that it would have been wiser if the story had been released as a single novel instead of a duology. How wrong I was. By limiting the story’s setup — which includes introducing the world and characters, developing backstory, and establishing themes — to Shadowbridge, Lord Tophet was better able to focus on telling an engaging narrative and rewarding the reader…and the difference between the two books is just astounding. Where Shadowbridge felt like a disjointed collection of short stories that overshadowed the main narrative and seemed to go nowhere, Lord Tophet is able to immediately dive into the meat of the story which involves the title character, Tophet — the god of Chaos — and his role in both Leodora’s past and her future, while resolving conflicts and providing answers. And as a direct result of Lord Tophet not having to deal with any setup and concentrating instead on completing the duology, plotting, pacing, structure, and even prose is significantly tighter and more cohesive than it was in Shadowbridge.
Creatively Lord Tophet is just as, if not more, imaginative than its predecessor with Edgeworld, the Brazen Head — a talking pendant that speaks in riddles “or at least in ways that are most obscure” — and the inverted world of Pons Asinorum, a world that threads all worlds, some of the novel’s most memorable creations. Stories meanwhile, remain just as important and fascinating as they were in Shadowbridge, and my favorite part of the duology. The key difference this time is that the stories actually complement, instead of overshadow, the main narrative, which by itself reads like a fable including a poetic quality to the writing, insightful moral lessons, and a satisfying fairy tale-like ending that both resolves issues and tantalizes with unspecified resolutions. As far as the actual stories — “The Tale of the Two Brothers,” “The Tale of Meersh and the Sun God,” “The Dream of a Fortune,” “Soter’s Tale,” and “Tophet’s Tale” — there’s not as many of them in Lord Tophet as there were in Shadowbridge, but the highly amusing “Tale of Meersh and the Sun God” featuring Penis is a personal favorite, while the tales of Soter and Tophet are two of the most powerful stories in the duology because of the shocking answers they provide.
To nitpick, characterization and worldbuilding is still not as deep as it could have been, there’s a romance in the novel that could have used a little more development, and parts of the story are predictable because of the mythological nature of the book. But because Lord Tophet is so much more well-rounded than its predecessor, it was a lot easier to ignore such issues this time around and just enjoy the ride.
Shadowbridge has been lauded for its imagination and storytelling, described as award-worthy, and praised as a classic-in-the-making, and such acclaim is not wholly without merit. But comparatively, Lord Tophet is a much better novel. It is also a different novel, so while Shadowbridge may provide the groundwork and is necessary to the duology, and Lord Tophet is a direct continuation of Shadowbridge, the two novels should be treated individually. After all, it is Lord Tophet that actually delivers the payoff — including answering such questions as the fate of Leodora’s mother and father, the secrets that Soter has been hiding, The Coral Man, the Agents, and a demigod’s warning — and does so spectacularly. So if you haven’t read Shadowbridge yet or had difficulties with the novel, you may want to reconsider.