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.

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