The Bright Empire Series; Stephen R. Lawhead; Thomas Nelson
The Skin Map; 2010;
I’ve been a Stephen Lawhead fan since I first read his Albion Trilogy (Thomas Nelson) back in the ’90’s, and this sentiment was later reinforced with his Pendragon Cycle. So when I heard he’d come out with another series; one that took a step back away from the historical, and leaned more towards the fantasy, I could hardly wait.
Now keep in mind, even if the author hadn’t been Lawhead, the whole idea of realm travel and skin mapping would have been enough to peek my interest; the fact that he’s the one who wrote it, simply assured it an unsolicited place on my stack of, ‘MUST READS’ pile.
Let me begin my review by reminding all of us who aspire to become authors someday, that in an age where there are literally hundreds of thousand of novels being produced every year, the fact that Lawhead created one that is both unique, as well as plausible, is an amazing feat in and of itself.
As with his Albion Trilogy, he has used the concepts of Ley lines, ancient pathways, history, and mankind’s propensity to pursue that which gives one pleasure through power at all costs, to weave a suspenseful, fast paced story.
Unfortunately, he didn’t do as well with his main characters.
Now I’m the first to admit I have a rather short attention span when it comes to how much time I’ll give an author to hook my attention. I read somewhere that the average reader needs to be hooked within the first three to four pages; with me you have less than one. And if you can’t pique my interest with character, and writers voice, you’d better do it with style. Fail either, and I’m off to the next book.
Fortunately with Stephen Lawhead, I’ve read enough of his work to realize, that even if he fails to immediately inspire me with his characters, his skill as a writer is credible enough to make me give him the benefit of a doubt. So I did.
The pay off? Given thirty pages or so, he eventually gave me a character I could like (though maybe not the one he intended); one that had enough depth and interest, that I found myself continually turning the pages in hopes of discovering more.
I really enjoyed following our main protagonists, Kit and Wilhelmina, through modern-day England, ancient Egypt, Prague, and the Orient. I was also quite pleased with the way Lawhead developed the possibility of using geographical energy sources to travel between realms and time, then using tattooed skin as a way to map it.
What I wasn’t happy about was the cacophony of unresolved questions, or my dislike of the main protagonist Kit: a young man lacking purpose in life, dominated by a strong-willed girlfriend, and too cowardly to try and do anything about either. As a reader you’re hoping that given enough experience, opportunities, and life threatening challenges to overcome, he will, at some point, redeem himself.
Which may have been why I was as equally surprised to find that Wilhelmina, who jumps into the story resembling a modern-day harpy, manages to do what her male counter part doesn’t; allow circumstances outside her control to change and mold her into the hero, at this point, he has yet to become.
On a scale of one to five, I’m giving The Skin Map a 3.5 star.