Review – The Skin Map

If you visited any of the blogs that participated in last week’s CSFF tour for The Skin Map, book one of the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson), then you’ve undoubtedly seen this book cover already. Still, it is so eye-catching, I thought it important to include with my review. From what I’ve read, apparently Mr. Lawhead drew the mapping symbols (the swirls, lines, and dots) himself because he wanted to get them just right. For me, that bit of information ups the intrigue factor. They need to be “right”? I suspect his map of the tangential universes and times is much the same to him as my map of Efrathah is to me—I need it to be “right” so I have the logistics in mind when I write my stories. But could it be more?

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me proceed with my review.

The Story. Against all possibility, Kit Livingstone meets his great-grandfather—who should be dead, or at least should be a one-hundred-twenty-something doddering old man. He is neither, and Kit doubts that Cosimo is who he claims to be. That is until he whisks Kit into another dimension—a parallel universe that more or less mirrors the history of the Home World. When Cosimo makes the effort to recruit Kit into helping him with some dimension-hopping adventure using mysterious ley lines, Kit refuses.

Returning home, he shows up late to his girlfriend, Wilhelmina’s house. When he explains what happened—only to meet her scorn—he feels compelled to show her that he did not imagine the experience. He returns with her to the street where he encountered Cosimo. However, as he is again whisked away, he and Wilhelmina are separated.

He rejoins Cosimo but insists they look for Mina. His great-grandfather agrees that it is imperative they find her, but the task is much harder than Kit realizes. Mina could be on any number of worlds, in any number of locations, at any number of times. Cosimo says they need the map that can guide them in their search.

And so begins the quest for the Skin Map.

To complicate matters, they are not the only people who know about the possibility of traveling ley lines from one dimension to another. A particular sadistic Englishman, Earl Burleigh, wants to gain possession of the map as well, and he doesn’t mind hurting those in his way.

Strengths. Stephen Lawhead has a distinct voice. His main character is all British and his opening setting is contemporary London, but quickly the story takes on an older, historical feel consistent with a Lawhead novel.

He employs an omniscient voice, with an unseen narrator, a device not common in contemporary fiction, though its use seems to be on the rise again. Wonderfully, he is a master at this point of view. From the beginning, I felt as if I was in the hands of a writer who knew what he was doing. When I was uncertain about something, I trusted that all I had to do was to keep reading, and in due time events would become clear. I wasn’t disappointed.

Mr. Lawhead is a describer. By putting in details that include smells and sounds, he creates a rich, tangible world. Yet the description does not ruin the plot. True, for much of the book, the pace is more leisurely, but there’s much to think about.

The central issue, after all, is the universe.

Some reviewers noted that none of the characters appear to be Christians and there doesn’t seem to be a central message about God. I tend to differ.

I believe there is a consistent sprinkling of thought-provoking, well-timed mentions of God, sometimes referenced as Providence. I believe Mr. Lawhead has laid the ground work for an exploration of God’s providential work versus Man’s freedom to choose his own path.

Weaknesses. One of the differences between an omniscient point of view and a third-person limited point of view is the fact that in the latter the reader can get much closer to the point of view character. The closer the writer draws to that character, the more the story feels as if it is happening to the reader.

I’ll be honest. I write using the third-person limited point of view, so I’m partial. I’m use to knowing characters more intimately. Consequently, I found the characters in The Skin Map to be somewhat distant. I didn’t care as much about their fate as I wanted to. I wanted to worry more, to feel more triumphant when success rewarded their efforts. I wanted to grieve when the occasion called for it. Instead, I felt interested on a more intellectual level, not on an emotional level.

Is that due to the point of view choice? Or is that the difference between the way men write and the way women want to read?

Recommendation. The Skin Map has a little something for everyone—mystical ley lines, apparent time travel, historical fiction, adventure, romance—it’s all there. The story is intriguing. Lawhead is masterful. The plot, while shifting from place to place and time to time, nevertheless follows a logical progression, with plenty of context clues to help the reader know how to navigate this multi-dimensional story. I highly recommend The Skin Map to all readers. It is a must read for Lawhead fans.

Please don’t forget to vote for this month’s Top Tour Blogger Award.

Published in: on November 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm  Comments (5)  
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