Hello again CSFF Tour fans. The monthly focus on Christian speculative fiction is wrapping up on the fourth book of the Bright Empires series, The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead. Yesterday I did a brief recap of the other three books so far. This link will take you to all of my prior posts on the Bright Empires series.
Lawhead said this was an ambitious series for him and that he didn't think he could write something like it earlier in his career. Now he was at a point that he could wrestle it.
Out of four rounds so far, the score card for this fight would be Lawhead 3 to 1. Unfortunately, The Shadow Lamp misses the mark in comparison to the other books.
It is a major challenge to find a story that can stretch for a trilogy, much less five books. There has to be enough conflict and high enough stakes to carry a reader through to the end.
The Bright Empires series has a significant crisis to solve by the end of book five - the potential destruction of the universe. So that's something.
The problem with book four is that it became too much of a set up story. There is a lot of shuffling the pieces to get them into the proper position. However, the stakes do not often grab the reader and make them care enough about what happens.
For instance, Lady Fayth and her loyal manservant Giles separate from the main group of heroes and get lost in an unknown dimension. There are harrowing circumstances, but the reason for their departure and the subsequent trial is nebulous. I shrugged my shoulders. Okay, why did that happen?
There are numerous plot points swirling around from the various players trying to figure out ley travel through dimensions for their own purposes. Some of them explain some background or seem to be moving somewhere, only to fizzle out. Maybe there is more to the story of Douglas, or the pirate attack suffered by the Burleigh men, but the significance was lost to me.
There were also two gatherings where educated people talked. A lot. They set up the huge consequences that happened in the prior book and pointed to the final act, but there wasn't much action or development within The Shadow Lamp itself.
The writing quality was still well done. Lawhead is so good at description and setting from his research and experience. I'm invested enough in the story that I will see it through to the end. I have faith that the last installment will be worth following this series for five years from when it released to its conclusion next year. But The Shadow Lamp will be the filler episode that is quickly forgotten in the midst of the other books.
One other factor has been discussed elsewhere in the tour, but Lawhead has discussed a little more theology in books 3 and 4 over the first two books.
I could see the seeds he planted and was excited about the firstfruits revealed in The Spirit Well. But in The Shadow Lamp, he takes the mythology he's created for the story regarding time and the idea of the multiverse and places it against the nature of God, in my opinion. Basically, if the heroes don't fix things, the timestream will collapse on itself and destroy everything.
I don't have a problem with a big cataclysm in a book - the bigger the stakes the better, usually. Like bacon. You can't have too much bacon. But I digress.
The issue is when this can happen despite God. That's what it sounds like could happen. Maybe I'm wrong, or maybe he'll clarify things in book five. Until then, my opinion was that this particular point is a detraction to the whole.
So, the take-home point? The Shadow Lamp is not a bad book. It's just not very memorable. It is by no means a deal-breaker in reading the Bright Empires series. My experience with Lawhead is that he can be a streaky writer. Some of his books have been my favorites. And some...not so much. Unfortunately The Shadow Lamp will stay in the shadows of my memory when all is said and done.
If you wonder what others are saying, Becky Miller has the list of all the participants. So I'll see you on the other side of the ley lines.