The CSFF Tour is featuring the latest from acclaimed author Stephen Lawhead, The Skin Map, first book of the Bright Empires series. Yesterday I gave a synopsis of the book, if you missed it. How does it stand up?
I've said here in the past that Stephen Lawhead is one of my favorite authors. For some reason, a couple of his books (usually the second or third in a series) have fallen flat for me. It's almost if he's a little streaky. Does The Skin Map strike hard or does it miss?
Thankfully, I can testify that Lawhead is on target with this first book. There's wit, suspense, intrigue, and the Lawhead tradmark of making a setting come alive. You see some of this with the very first lines of the book:
Had he but known that before the day was over he would discover the hidden dimensions of the universe, Kit might have been better prepared. At least, he would have brought an umbrella.(Best opening line I've read since, "The nun hit me in the mouth and said, 'Get out of my house.'")
Lawhead has stated on his website that he's been writing this series in his head for the last 15 years or so, just now he has the skill to handle all of the complexity. I would believe it. He has numerous characters jumping from the Home World to different times and locales, and he brings the unique flavor of each place out. There's enough characters and locations (and times!) that it almost gets confusing, but he keeps things moving forward. Many threads are started, and it may seem a little disconnected in the middle of the book. The beauty is that in the apparent chaos ensuing, it snaps together in the end, leaving the reader going "Whoa." If a reader isn't patient or attentive, they could get lost.
The book follows 20-something Kit Livingstone as he discovers his gift for traveling the mysterious ley lines, his girlfriend Mina as she gets lost in 17th century Prague, the Man Who Is Map forging paths through the dimensions, and the ruthless Lord Burleigh. Each character brings their own weight to their sections. I don't feel like I'm reading one voice for each person - they are individuals. Their interaction with the various settings is thought-provoking, such as the timeline in which Kit's relative Cosimo stops the famous Fire of London in1666 just by waking the baker whose oven started the disaster.
Despite a rather large cast and the varied times, the book is suspenseful and a great page-turner. My only complaint is the book is a major set-up for the whole series. It makes sense that it can't be too self-limiting, and the reader is left with a major cliffhanger at the end. I am ready for book two, like RIGHT NOW.
A couple further thoughts:
As I discussed yesterday, the story's premise hinges on these ley lines acting as corridors to these alternate universes. These are well-known to the pagan and new age movements, considered powerful centers of energy. Lawhead has used many other mythic components in his fiction, such as Atlantis and Merlin in the Pendragon Cycle, and Celtic myths in the Song of Albion trilogy. However, he has taking these seemingly pagan points and turned them into a natual way of speaking of faith and Christ. He makes it an organic part of the story. Christianity isn't proclaimed loudly in The Skin Map, but there are characters who speak and ponder about God and how He may be working through the Omniverse (multiple universes). Speculative, but still informed by faith. Potential authors can learn here from Mr. Lawhead.
Finally, check out his website for a good interview from Lawhead regarding the research he does for his work. It is informative to those curious about how to write a realistic setting, one of his strengths.
As always, the other fun folk at the CSFF Tour have more to say, and you can find the full list on Becky Miller's blog.
BTW, the FTC requires a blogger to disclose whether they got a free review copy. I am disclosing that I used my birthday gift card to Barnes and Noble on this book. I am a very satisfied consumer!