CSFF Blog Tour – The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead, Day 1

The Bright Empires series

This morning I posted my regular Monday article over at Spec Faith, and I couldn’t help but think of The Spirit Well, third in the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead, the CSFF Blog Tour’s October feature. In “The Success Of Fantasy By The Masters” I take a look at why Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth became popular, even with people who would not identify as “fantasy readers.”

Ultimately, I have to agree with Dr. Michael D.C. Drout, author of EXPLORING FANTASY LITERATURE, in saying that these books mediate between contemporary readers and the authors’ fantasy creations–often built on the backs of earlier myth and legend.

As I looked at the divergent methods Lewis and Tolkien used to forge the bridge that would give readers access to the fantastic, Stephen Lawhead came to mind. In his current series, The Bright Empires, he also mediates between the reader and the world of what-if which he created.

What’s interesting to me as a writer is that he employed a “reluctant hero,” much as Stephen Donaldson did in his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series.

Tolkien’s first hero, Bilbo, wasn’t so very different. He, too, was reluctant–until he wasn’t. At the bottom of Bilbo’s heart was an untapped desire for adventure.

In Stephen Lawhead’s primary protagonist Kit, there is perhaps curiosity and a desire for validation, but I don’t see a desire for adventure.

Another difference is that Bilbo had a happy life. He lived securely and was content for the most part, especially if he could avoid those certain relatives that annoyed him.

Kit, on the other hand, came across in The Skin Map, the opening book of Mr. Lawhead’s series, as a discontented, contrary young man, unwilling to move beyond his comfort zone, even to help a long lost relative.

My point is that Bilbo induced a certain amount of sympathy. I felt put out for him, having unwanted and unexpected dwarfs show up at his door and intrude upon his quiet. I also felt a little annoyed that Biblo wouldn’t be more forceful with them and send them packing. But once they left without him and he went running after them without his hat and all, I realized, at his core he wasn’t really reluctant.

Kit is much more truly reluctant. What he doesn’t want is to be duped. He wants to know that his venture into another realm was real, so he looks for validation. In this regard, he’s more like Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She also ventured into another realm, only to return to the scorn of those who didn’t think she was telling the truth.

In some ways, Lawhead utilizes a combination of Lewis’s and Tolkien’s methods of bridging the gap between contemporary readers and his speculative world. He employs a type of portal but also characters with whom the reader can identify–flawed characters, not fitting into their contemporary world, or rather, into our contemporary world. Their problems are our problems, and their accidental escape into past dimensions that end up strengthening them and refining them might resonate with readers who have longed for a simpler time.

But how simple can it be when opponents are tracking you from one ley line to another, intent on killing you to take what you both prize? Clearly, Lawhead’s appeal is not solely due to an attractive, slower lifestyle. Rather, he builds a solid and convincing bridge that gives twenty-first century readers access to his speculative multiverse.

I’ll give my review of The Spirit Well later in the tour, but for now, take time to visit the other participants who have also posted articles about this book and see what they think.

CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead

Without a doubt, Stephen Lawhead is proving to be one of the most popular CSFF Blog Tour authors. His latest, The Bone House (Thomas Nelson), garnered the kind of attention you’d expect for book two of an epic series by a seasoned, well-loved author. Thirty-five bloggers in all posted sixty-four articles during the tour.

Discussion ranged from the religious aspects of the story to the concept of the multiverse. Some reviewers discussed story elements and others took a closer look at the author.

In the end, we have a collection of bloggers who posted all three days of the tour, making them eligible for the October CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award. The list and links to their articles are below:

Please take time during the next ten days to review their posts and to vote for the blogger you believe did the most outstanding job during this tour. It’s not an easy choice, I can tell you. Which is why I need your help. The poll closes midnight Pacific time, November 7.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead, Day 3

The Bone House, Book 2 of the Bright Empires series, a science-fantasy for adults by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson), is the CSFF Blog Tour October feature. Today I have the privilege of giving my review.

First, a number of participants have already reviewed and discussed aspects of Mr. Lawhead’s latest. One post of special note is Jeff Chapman‘s excellent look at the historical underpinnings of this novel. I’d also highly recommend Shannon McDermott‘s look at Christian elements in the story. Finally, stop by new member Katie McCurdy‘s site and read her take on The Bone House.

And now my review.

The Story. I sort of want to say, Your guess is as good as mine. The Bright Empires series is an epic story, and each of the books builds on the previous one without wrapping anything up at its end. Consequently, the wisest move a reader could make would be to begin at the beginning with The Skin Map.

Without missing a beat, The Bone House picks up the story where the first volume left off — with the exception that new characters are now inserted. How exactly they fit into the over all plot is somewhat of a mystery. But a couple things seem to unify all the various characters — they have knowledge of the ley lines, areas of magnetic energy, which allow them to move across time and space into alternate realities, and they are concerned with the map, once tatooed onto the torso of an Arthur Flinders-Petrie, that apparently brings order to the space-time dimensional chaos.

In the simplest terms, the main character is Kit Livingston who has determined to complete the mission his grandfather started — to find the Skin Map. For reasons not yet clear, Lord Archelaeus Burleigh also wants the map and will take whatever ruthless action he needs to in order to procure it.

The story, however, is anything but simple, because Arthur himself appears in an earlier time, with his wife and then his son. In fact his grandson, or perhaps his great grandson, Douglas is the first point-of-view character, and he maintains a thread throughout.

In addition, Kit’s greatest ally, his one-time fiance Mina, plays the most heroic role of all, but Kit finds help from any number of others — some by design like Dr. Thomas Young, and some by apparent happenstance like Big Hunter.

In the end, however, Kit ends up virtually alone and lost, except he’s found what everyone is looking for, what the Skin Map was supposed to show them. So what’s he to do now?

Strengths. Mr. Lawhead writes such deft prose. He paints pictures with his words and in so doing creates worlds and history and fully realized characters. He’s also impressively weaving a story with an unbelievable number of threads in a way that seems utterly believable.

Just out of reach is the Greater Meaning. After all, the story is about the universe — or more accurately, the multiverse — and man’s interplay with alternate realities. It’s also about Life and immortality and Providence, about spiritual consciousness, relationship with the “eternal, ever-living Creator,” and the “language of angels.” These things aren’t fully developed, and some have only been introduced, but the story has the feel of something Bigger.

My Guesses. [Spoiler Alert] Instead of picking at the story to find something to fault, I’d rather give my thoughts on what might be coming or what it all might mean. The Bright Empires series is, in part, a mystery, after all. And part of the fun of mysteries is to try to make educated guesses, then see how close you came to the way things actually are, story wise. So here are my guesses, for those of you who have read The Bone House.

I am postulating that En-Ul, the Ancient One, is Arthur Flinders-Petrie. I don’t know how that could be except that Kit ended up at the Well of Souls where he encountered Arthur because En-Ul apparently sent him there.

Another possibility is that En-Ul is a type of God, the Creator, or God in earthly flesh. I assumed he had gone to the Bone House to die, that this was the caveman equivalent to the Egyptian pyramid. But then it proved to be built on a ley line — or maybe The Ley Line — and Kit traveled or jumped to the Well. What happened to En-Ul? (And why could he and Kit communicate telepathically?)

The bigger issue, though, is Providence or God’s sovereignty. If Man has free will and can choose to act in any number of ways that influence others and alter history, how is God still sovereign? The concept of a multiverse cosmos could give an answer. No matter what Man chooses, God works to bring about His Grand Plan. So the alternate existences all have the same characters doing the same things with the same motives, but in one they might choose to act in one way, whereas in a second they might choose to act with some variation. In the end those differences are turned by corresponding acts so that the One Grand Design is still fulfilled.

So those are my two guesses. [End spoiler alert.]

Recommendation. The Bone House is part of what is shaping up to be a masterful epic science fantasy. It is complex, mysterious, though-provoking, intricate, and beautifully written. It isn’t particularly “character driven,” though the main character does grow and change. But the story seems less about him and more about the way the world works, though I could be wrong about that.

This one is a must read for Stephen Lawhead fans. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys time travel (though ley jumping is distinctly different, it has a feel of time travel) or alternate reality stories. It’s also dealing with cosmic reality, so anyone who has a bent toward the philosophical may enjoy this one too.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead, Day 2

Where is God in Stephen Lawhead‘s Bright Empires series, of which The Bone House (Thomas Nelson) is the second book? It’s inevitable in a Christian speculative tour to ask this kind of question.

As I’ve said of late, there really is only one distinctive in Christian fiction of any genre — it can tell the truth about God. No other fiction can. Stories by those of other religions or by atheists might do an exceptional job showing this world, but when it comes to ultimate reality — who God is, what He plans for Mankind, how He relates to people here and now or in the future — no one else besides Christians can tell the truth.

In other words, the fiction of those not believing in Jesus Christ will be flawed because they don’t have true understanding of reality. They either will write a story about the here and now leaving God out or they will write a story about the here and now or about the hereafter that is riddled with error about God.

But Christians don’t automatically, by virtue of our faith, depict God accurately in our fiction. Some admittedly don’t try.

A portion of those see their job as tilling the soil. They want to create a hunger and thirst for eternal things by showing something about love and life and meaning in the here and now.

Others don’t try because they don’t think they need to — their faith will be a part of their story, they believe, because it’s a part of them.

Where in all this does Stephen Lawhead fall? I have no idea. But without a doubt “religion” is moving forward in importance in the Bright Empires series.

In the first installment, The Skin Map, some reviewers didn’t think there was a central message about God. In my review I disagreed, saying, “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.”

Honestly, I don’t yet know what the “central message” related to God is in the Bright Empires novels. After all, we’re only through book two of a five book series. But as I said above, religion has become more important.

For example, there’s this scene about a fourth of the way into the story:

Turms, splendid in a crimson robe and tall hat trimmed in gold, stooped low and thanked the animal for the sacrifice of its life. With a nod to Arthur and Xian-Li, he beckoned them to the altar and instructed them to place their hands upon the lamb. He then drew a knife made from black volcanic glass across its throat. The small creature lay still and expired without a sound. Then, while attendants eviscerated the carcass, a golden bowl in which some of the blood had been collected was passed to Turms.

He lifted the bowl and drank, then offered the bowl to both Arthur and Xian-Li.

The scene continues with this Egyptian Priest King completing the ceremony of divination and making a pronouncement that the unborn child in question would be healthy and have a long life.

This is the same Priest King, by the way, who earlier in the novel had this insight:

Turms was impressed once again, as he often was, how even the most seemingly insignificant and trivial actions and associations could, in the fullness of time, command great import.

Despise not the day of small things . . . was that how it went? It was a saying he had learned in Alexandria from a bearded eastern sage — a wise man of the cult of Yahweh — the god, it was claimed, who reigned above all others, who ordained and sustained all things for his creation, and who was worshiped by Hebrews to the exclusion of all others.

Half way into the novel another overtly religious scene unfolds. One of the characters based on the historical archeologist Dr. Thomas Young says this to Kit, the main character:

“Too many of my brother scientists are succumbing to a view that holds all religion as outdated nonsense — nursery tales from mankind’s infancy, dogmas to be outgrown and swept aside by scientific progress.”

“I’m familiar with the view,” confirmed Kit.

“But see here,” continued Thomas, brightening once more. “Contrary to what many may think, immortality is not a fairy tale invented to compensate for an unhappy life. Rather, it is the perception shared by nearly all sentient beings that our conscious lives are not bounded by this time and space. We are not merely lumps of animate matter. We are living spirits — we all feel this innately. And in our deepest hearts, we know that we can only find ultimate fulfilment in union with the supreme spiritual reality — a reality that appears, even during this earthly life, to take us beyond the narrow limits of time.”

As the conversation goes on, the doctor builds a case for Man’s consciousness — his self-awareness and imagination — not bound by time and space, yearning for “an affinity with the One Great Consciousness that made us — the spiritual consciousness of the Creator.”

He concludes by saying, “It is because we can establish an affinity with the eternal Creator that immortality becomes more than a fairy tale. At very least, you must allow, it becomes a most reasonable hope.”

As I see it, this exchange is central to understanding the main thrust of the Bright Empires novels.

But clearly, everything in the story, including the ultimate theme, is under construction. How the Priest King’s divination ceremony fits with Dr. Young’s religious philosophizing remains to be seen in the next three volumes.

About the only thing I can say with some sense of certainty is that Mr. Lawhead’s inclusion of religion is purposeful. He’s weaving the spiritual element into his stories with the same intrigue and care as he’s weaving the ley lines of his plot.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead, Day 1

Strap on your gear. The CSFF Blog Tour is going on a whirlwind journey through time and space via “ley lines” and Stephen Lawhead‘s latest science fantasy/time-travel/historical adventure novel, The Bone House (Thomas Nelson), book 2 in the Bright Empires series.

In that short description you can see some of the contradictions in this novel — science fiction but fantasy, time travel but alternate realities, historical but strong on the adventure.

There’s more where that came from: Christian but with a fortune-telling, blood-letting pagan ceremony. Kit’s story but Mina as the hero, an orphan who is the villain not the victim.

Contradictions and the unexpected — that’s what the reader can expect when he opens The Bone House. But perhaps a proper introduction is warranted. This, from the author himself:

Next, if you’d like a refresher on the first book of the series, The Skin Map, you’ll find a sketch of the story in my review.

Now you’re ready to head off on the tour. During the next three days, enjoy what each of these bloggers has to say about The Bone House:

Each check mark links to a tour article.

And The Winner Is …

The title of this post is a little misleading because no one is actually winning anything. However, I did want to share the results of the “It’s All In The Opening” poll since I mentioned it with some frequency last week, either here or at other social media venues. According to those who voted, there was a clear front runner and a solid second place, with the other four books lagging behind.

Not only do I want to give you the results, I want to do the Big Reveal: who wrote each of those excerpts. In other words, who did you all end up voting for based solely on the writing of their first one hundred or so words?

So, after 90 votes and an unknown number of abstentions, here are the books, the authors, and the results in the order in which they appeared in the poll.

– – – – –

Choice A The Opposite Of Art by Athol Dickson (Howard Books, A Division of Simon & Schuster), *9% of the vote.

Sirens called him from his dreams. When the racket stopped, he rose and crossed the little bedroom of his hotel suite to lean out into the night, trusting his life to the freezing wrought iron railing just beyond the window so he could gaze down into the alley where a couple of New York City’s finest had thrown some guy against the bricks. Even from five floors up, even in the dark, Ridler recognized the lust for violence and the fear down there, but that was nothing compared to the play of the police car’s lights on the wall across the alley.

– – – – –

Choice B The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead (Thomas Nelson), 10% of the vote.

“And I say that you’re a fool, Addison Fletcher!” the brawny man declared, striking his ale mug against the bare wooden table for emphasis.

“God smite me where I sit if I tell a lie, Coll Dawson!” Addison protested, his eyes flicking heavenward for the briefest of moments.

“Ah, but — did you not say,” declared Coll, cocking an eyebrow and pointing a finger. “Did you not say that you got this account from another –”

“From Rob Fuller,”piped a voice from the end of the table.

“Aye, from Rob Fuller. And who’s to say that a tale told by Rob Fuller is true or false? Swearing oaths upon secondhand tales is not wise.”

– – – – –

Choice C The Monster In The Hollows by Andrew Peterson (Rabbit Room Press), 39% of the vote.

It wasn’t a sound that woke Janner Igiby. It was a silence.

Something was wrong.

He strained into a sitting position, wincing at the pain in his neck, shoulders, and thighs. Every time he moved he was reminded of the claws and teeth that had caused his wounds.

He expected to see the bearer of those claws and teeth asleep in the bunk beside him, but his brother was gone. Sunlight fell through the porthole and slid to and fro across the empty mattress like a pendulum, keeping time with the rocking of the boat. The other bunk’s bedclothes were in a heap on the floor, which was typical; Kalmar never made his bed back in Glipwood, either. What wasn’t typical was his absence.

– – – – –

Choice D The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson), 8% of the vote.

From a snug in the corner of the Museum Tavern, Douglas Flinders-Petrie dipped a sop of bread into the gravy of his steak and kidney pudding and watched the entrance to the British Museum across the street. The great edifice was dark, the building closed to the public for over three hours. The employees had gone home, the charwomen had finished their cleaning, and the high iron gates were locked behind them. The courtyard was empty and, outside the gates, there were fewer people on the street now than an hour ago. He felt no sense of urgency: only keen anticipation, which he savoured as he took another draught of London Pride. He had spent most of the afternoon in the museum, once more marking the doors and exits, the blind spots, the rooms where a person might hide and remain unseen by the night watchmen, of which there were but three to cover the entire acreage of the sprawling institution.

– – – – –

Choice E The Button Girl by Sally Apokedak (unpublished manuscript), 20% of the vote.

The lantern, dangling from Repentance Atwater’s upstretched hand, cast a pool of yellow light around the village midwife, as she stooped beside Joy Springside’s sleeping mat. The rest of the cave lay in darkness.

“Push, now, Joy!” the midwife commanded.

Joy, her face scrunched with the effort, pushed.

The baby came finally, all purple-skinned and slick with blood and screaming his protest at the world.

Screaming his protest.

A boy!

It wasn’t fair! Lantern light splashed up and down the walls as Repentance’s hand shook.

She grimaced, as the babe’s squalling bounced off hard stone walls and bruised her raw nerves. She should never have agreed to this.

– – – – –

Choice F Pattern Of Wounds by J. Mark Bertrand (Bethany House), 12% of the vote.

A uniform named Nguyen is on the tape tonight. The flashing lights bounce off the reflective strips on his slicker. He cocks his head at my ID and gives me a sideways smile.

“Detective March,” he says, adding my name to his log.

“I know you, don’t I? You worked the Thomson scene last year.”

“That was me.”

“Good work, if I remember. You got a line on this one yet?”

“I haven’t even been inside.” He nods at the house over his shoulder. A faux Tuscan villa on Brompton in West University, just a couple of blocks away from the Rice village. “Nice, huh? Not the first place I’d expect to be called out to.”

“You think death cares where you live?”

“I guess not. Answer me one thing: why the monkey suit?”

– – – – –

So what I’m wondering … after seeing the book covers and learning who the authors are, would you change your vote?

Something to think about.

* Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

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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CSFF Blog Tour – The Skin Map, Day 3

I personally will need to extend the CSFF Blog Tour because I’m still reading our feature, The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson). I’ve been feeling guilty about this because I know if I’d pushed, I could have finished reading it on time.

But it dawned on me today, I didn’t want to push to finish. There are some books that drive me on with a fast pace, tension, and suspense. The Skin Map quickly introduces tension, but I won’t say it’s fast-paced. In fact, I’d call it a leisurely pace that builds as the plot weaves and dodges.

I’ll stop there because I don’t want to give a review of merely the part of the book I’ve read.

Instead, I want to talk about something this book has made me think of—the incorporation of moral or spiritual themes in fiction. I’m including “moral” because of the example I’m going to give, but the application for The Skin Map is spiritual.

A few days ago, I read a review written by a Christian about a secular book. This person was positive about all aspects except one. The author had portrayed a homosexual relationship in a positive light, rendering it a normal part of culture, no different than the existence of varying eye colors. In the comments, sadly, this Christian review got hammered by people claiming the blogger was hateful.

But here’s the thing. The blogger (I assume, correctly) identified a moral position woven into the story contrary to this person’s individual beliefs. I applaud the blogger’s alertness to recognize this theme. As I see it, that’s the discernment we Christians need to have.

At the same time, I think we need to write the way the author of the book under review apparently wrote. The theme meshed with the story, was a part of the experience of one of the characters (who had two mothers), and was presented as ordinary.

I believe Stephen Lawhead has done much the same thing with Christianity in The Skin Map. None of the characters (so far) have made any pronouncements of faith. But woven throughout the book are lines about such things as prayer, attendance in church, schooling by Jesuits, Providence, and God Himself.

In addition, I realized some two hundred words into the book that Mr. Lawhead likes playing with names. Early in the story, readers learn the adversaries are known as Burley men. Some chapters later we meet a character named Earl Burleigh. Not coincidentally, he shows himself to be the Man behind the men.

Later, when a new character comes into the story, Lady Fayth, niece of Sir Henry Fayth, Lord Castlemain, I began to wonder if there isn’t significance in these names as well.

Granted, one can get carried away looking for meaning tucked here and there (see for example, some of the works about the Harry Potter books), but in a story, by a Christian, involving the fabric of the universe—time and space—I can’t help but wonder if readers looking for the obvious might not miss the subtle.

As I see it, Mr. Lawhead has established God in his story world (throughout time and across distance) by the fact that some of the character have an almost nonchalant acceptance of Him and by the suggestion through names that some characters may represent more than what they first appear to.

These are things I need time to think about. Without a doubt, I’d miss whatever subtleties and secrets might be in the story if I had pushed to finish.

My full review TBA. In the meantime, visit the blogs of others participating in the tour. You’ll find some excellent discussions and reviews. I’ll recommend Bruce Hennigan’s discussion of providence, Rachel Starr Thomson’s article about expectations, John Hileman’s comparison of the book to a corn muffin (don’t miss this one), and Steve Trower’s (who hardly ever gets books sent to him in the UK) review.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Skin Map, Day 2

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The Skin Map, Book 1 of the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, this accomplished author considers this work his most challenging.

And yet, surprisingly, I’ve seen a number of comments about this adventure story. Truly, there is adventure, and the story has intrigue from the opening page. But the page before the first page should get readers thinking more deeply right from the start.

I’m referring to the short epigraph:

Why is the Universe so big?
Because we are here!”

John Wheeler, Physicist

This short hint to the theme of the book, and probably of the series, tells me a couple things.

1) The story has some scientific underpinnings.
2) The implications are philosophical.
3) The philosophical implications will have theological ramifications.

First a little about the science. The physicist Mr. Lawhead quoted is credited with coining the terms black hole and wormhole, among others. He is known for his work in general relativity, including the theory of gravitational collapse.

He also postulated an interesting theory about Man’s relationship to the universe, now know as his ‘it from bit’ doctrine. Information, he believed, was fundamental to the physics of the universe—”all things physical are information-theoretic in origin.”

It from bit. Otherwise put, every ‘it’—every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself—derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. ‘It from bit’ symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes–no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.
– John Wheeler, as quoted in Wikipedia’s article “John Archibald Wheeler” (emphases mine)

I don’t pretend to understand all this science or a tenth of the ramifications of it. I’m not sure I understand why Mr. Lawhead chose the quote he did to introduce his story.

I do know these are big issues—the origin of the universe and it’s vastness; our place in it; our understanding of it.

As a Christian, I can’t arrive at issues regarding the universe without asking, What about God? Where does He fit into the equation?

If, for example, I was to answer the question posed in the epigraph, Why is the universe so big? I would most certainly not answer the way Mr. Wheeler did. I would probably say, Because God is bigger still.

What, then, will a story be that begins with the bigness of Man instead of the bigness of God?

These are questions I have yet to answer, but my guess is, all will not become clear until the final page of the Bright Empires series, and then we might have more questions to ponder than answers.

In the meantime, we have an adventure to enjoy.

Be sure to check out what other bloggers on the tour are discussing. Fred Warren has an interesting article on tattoos (no kidding). Author Matt Mikalatos explains the origins of ley lines, a key component in The Skin Map. John Otte discusses the opening of The Skin Map and expounds on what makes a good opening. Don’t forget Robert Treskillard‘s contest and the autographed copy of The Skin Map he’s offering as the prize. For other reviews and articles, check the links at the end of Day 1.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Skin Map, Day 1

The Skin Map, Book 1 of the Bright Empires series, is the latest release by vaunted fantasy/historical fiction writer Stephen Lawhead. The author himself describes the series as the most challenging he’s ever undertaken, largely because of the complexities. The work is a unique cross between science and fantasy.

Above all, Mr. Lawhead remains one of the great storytellers of our day. He knows how to create interesting characters, build tension, generate suspense.

Because The Skin Map is such a unique undertaking, the book trailer might be the best way to introduce the premise.

And now a bite of the actual writing for you to chew on:

The main room of the inn was bustling with a brisk trade, but they found a table and ordered three jars of the best. When the ale came, the publican brought a bowl of roasted and salted cobnuts. Sir Henry raised a toast, and they all quaffed down the sweet ale. “As soon as we’ve finished here,” Cosimo announced, “we’re off to fetch the map.”

“And then?” wondered Kit.

“Then we shall determine the best course of action from several that are open to us,” answered Cosimo. “If my hunch is correct, we’ll be heading off to one of the nearer leys—the Cotswolds are full of them, and there are several within striking distance.”

They drank in silence for a while, then Kit said, “Tell me, is it always the past we visit? I mean do you ever travel to the future?”

“The absolute future?” His great-grandfather shook his head of wavy white hair. “No. Never. At least I’ve never heard that it was possible. Now, the relative future—well, that’s something else altogether.”

“Come again?” asked Kit.

“See here,” Cosimo said, “the relative future is what Sir Henry would visit if he were to travel to London in, say, 1920.”

“The past for us, but the future for him. It’s relative to where you started from. I get it.”

“Precisely,” agreed his great-grandfather. “But no one—not Sir Henry, myself, you, or anone else—can go beyond the present time of the Home World. That’s the absolute future, and no one can travel there.”

“Why not?”

Cosimo glanced at Sir Henry, who frowned. “We don’t know,” he confessed. “We’ve tried, but it does not seem at all possible. We don’t know why.” He paused, then added, “It is a question that has been troubling me for years.”

“We have theories,” prompted Sir Henry.

“Yes, and the simplest explanation is that the future hasn’t happened yet.”

“Which is why they call it the future, I suppose.”

(from The Skin Map, pp. 150-151)

Be sure to visit the other blogs participating in the tour (a check mark links to an article that has already been posted). Note in particular that you can win an autographed copy of The Skin Map from Robert Treskillard.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.

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