Wednesday, November 3, 2010

CSFF Blog Tour Review: The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead

The CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead this month. This is the first of the Bright Empires novels. In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Summary (from Barnes and Noble's website):

Kit Livingstone's great-grandfather has re-appeared with an unbelievable story--the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legends but truly are pathways to other worlds. So few people know how to use them, though, that doing so is fraught with danger.

But one explorer knew more than most. Because of his fear of being unable to find his way home, he developed an intricate code and tattooed his map onto his skin. But the map has since been lost and rival factions are in desperate competition to recover it. What none of them yet realize is that the skin map itself is not the prize at the end of this race . . . but merely the first goal of a vast and marvelous quest to regain Paradise.

Enter the ultimate treasure hunt--with a map made of skin, a playing field of alternate realities, and a prize that is the greatest mystery of all.

How I felt about the book:

The idea of travel to other worlds through ley lines was very interesting. Old, mysterious stuff like ley lines can be fascinating, and Lawhead did something very cool with them. I was always eager to get back to reading the book so I could see what would happen next and what interesting place I'd get to experience. What I found interesting is that it's almost like reading historical fiction at the same time as speculative fiction. It was fun, especially since I like historical fiction.

The book had good, vivid descriptions. His words drew beautiful, clear pictures in my mind. I felt like I was in the different times and places where the book takes place.

However, the author sometimes repeats certain descriptions. Or, more often, he repeats a word in close proximity to the first time it was used. This got a little distracting for me. Other times, it's like he's taken his first description, changed the wording a bit, and reused it. I got frustrated with having the same details told to me twice. An example of when he did this is on pages 322 and 367. Compare the descriptions of the wadi. You'll see that both times, the wadi has air described as dead, but the "shade" "revives" the two characters who experience it (words in quotations are words that were the same both times). It's so close that one time it says, "Cosimo felt himself slightly revived," and the other time it says, "Kit felt himself revive." It was like having a case of reading deja vu.

I would have preferred if an indication of the general time period of each chapter was given sooner, or if more of it was given. Sometimes it was pretty clear where the travelers were, like in the London, Prague, and China chapters. But when Burleigh was there for the opening of the tomb, I had no idea when it was taking place. All I knew was that they had cars.

I think that Lawhead handled all the different places and times really well. He wove them together with all the threads leading to the climax, where they began to explain each other. He did a marvelous job in that aspect.

The untranslated German when Etzel and Wilhelmina met confused and frustrated me. I want to know what they said. If it's put in a book, the reader should be able to understand it, or it should be explained.

Another thing that bothered me was that sometimes the author contradicted himself. The first time we see a particular wadi (page 322 again), he says that it was cut "by water from the melt runoff during the last ice age." The next time we see the same wadi (page 367 again), he says that it was cut "by the abundant rains of a much younger world." Also, he writes that Cosimo and Sir Henry's hands are bound with rope. Later, they wipe sweat from their faces, take off their boots, etc. with no mention of their hands having been untied. There were a couple more contradictions, but those were the two that stood out to me the most and distracted me.

At one point, the story is split into five threads, each of which follows a different set of characters. I felt that the five weren't balanced well enough. It took too long for the story to get back to Cosimo and to Kit. Kit is the main character, isn't he? So why didn't we hear about him for so long?

On the subject of characters, I didn't feel like I identified enough with all of the viewpoint characters. Their emotions and/or motives were often hidden from the reader, which made me feel distanced (or made me wonder how they managed to fall in love with someone). The characters I empathized with most were Wilhelmina and Etzel.

Speaking of those two characters, I loved reading about them. They were real people with real emotions. It's funny, because from Kit's description of Wilhelmina in the beginning of the book, I thought I wasn't going to be able to stand her. But she turned out to be my favorite character and a smart, sweet person. I looked forward to the sections with the Kaffeehaus.

I'm definitely reading the next book when it comes out. Lawhead left it at a couple cliffhangers, and I especially want to know what happens with Flinders-Petrie.

You can read more about the book at Stephen Lawhead's website or by visiting some of the other blogs participating in this tour:

Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

Becca Johnson