I want to start by saying how much I appreciate being a part of the Christian Sci-Fi Fantasy Blog Tour (CSFFBT). I wish I had more time to interact with the other tour members, and always find I enjoy seeing other reviews. Thank you to Rebecca LuElla Miller and everyone else who makes this tour not only available, but such a successful endeavor. For those out there who are considering joining, I want to let you know that most of the books are great and the community is very good to their fellows… but these things are self-evident. Read the other blogs on the tour and you’ll see exactly what I mean!
The October book was “The Skin Map”, by Stephen R. Lawhead. It’s the first book in the “Bright Empires” series of novels. Unfortunately the books came late, so the tour was pushed back to this week. The next month or 2 will likely have altered schedules as well, so keep your eyes open for new reviews.
My first impression… I’m not going to be interested in a book called “The Skin Map”. I’m not into dark, gruesome things. Thankfully my worries were for nothing. Stephen R Lawhead brings another successful tale to the table.
Let us get the bad things out of the way. First, there were some words that a Christian should never use. Unfortunately there are a number of people in the limelight bearing the name of Christ and insisting that foul language is not only acceptable, but necessary. That is what I would call a real example of bearing the Lord’s name in vain… falsely saying God would have things a certain way. Some may say those words in this book are not considered vulgar or curse words in England, which I don’t really buy. Even still, common and culturally accepted does not mean good and right. Not to mention that if the book is to be sold over seas then these may be reasons to consider making an edition without these words for foreign audiences. Mr. Lawhead, I’d like to ask you to consider this (again if you’ve already done so) for your future books. Thanks!
Second, some of the words completely took me out of the book. This may be due to Mr. Lawhead being from England, it may be from my need for a larger vocabulary. However, I got the impression he was trying to be as specific as possible with the least amount of words in a few spots, and in said examples it was a nocent modus operandi, inducing a surcease of raptness. However, I could probably count on one hand (possibly 2 hands) the amount of times this happened… and not that’s not because I’m unable to count ;p
Third, I felt the end of the book, while good, was not a real ending at all… therefore requiring the reader to read future installments to get the feeling that they really finished the book. Now I will say that in some books this really bothers me. I know it bothered my wife some with this book. However, it didn’t really bug me that much with “The Skin Map”, though I haven’t yet figured out why.
The only other thing I thought could have been better was a presentation of God and His Truth. While the story wasn’t necessarily anti-scriptural in its fictional setting (certainly it would support input from a Biblical world view), the book wasn’t deep in spiritual truths either. It felt like a lot of the spiritual aspects were simply “nods” to Christianity. There were opportunities to weave spiritual truth and inspirational realities that Lawhead didn’t seem interested in pursuing, though I can certainly see how these things may grow greatly later in the series. I’m hoping to see Lawhead capitalize on these opportunities as Bright Empires progresses.
So those were the downers, not enough there for me to turn someone away from the book though.
Now the good things!
Again the presentation of the book was top notch. The slip cover, hardcover, paper quality, rough cutting of the pages to match the story… it was physically put together well. I imagine it will survive many readings.
The story was great. I don’t remember any plot holes, it engaged me more and more as the pages flew by, it was well-balanced with character development, and though it was deep it wasn’t too complicated to follow. I remember in Stephen Lawhead’s book “Tuck” I felt that he drove the story rather than letting the story drive him, like he made something happen whether it fit the story or not. However in “The Skin Map” I don’t remember getting that feeling at all. The few “convenient” events that caused me to consider this problem only really ended up making me even more drawn into the story, excited to see how they would naturally fit into the story further on.
Using the story to open up people’s thinking was great, and though I don’t think there are ley lines leading to alternate realities and times I do think we need to remember that we don’t have the world around us as figured out as we think… not even close. The essay at the end contributed to this nicely, and I was glad Stephen included it.
And on that note, the world he created is indeed a fascinating one. Though not overly original (I know, I know, there’s NOTHING new underneath the sun), I do think he’s going to bring the commonly used things together in a very uncommon way. He did it in “Tuck”, and it appears he wants to do so even more in the Burning Empires. Even the name of the series suggests so (and it really makes me excited to read the rest of the series!).
The characters were a blast to follow! They seemed to develop very naturally, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the rest of the story line! I’ve got some theories about what’s going to happen to who, but I won’t say anything more save that if Lawhead decides to do something that squashes my theories I have a feeling it will probably make me even more excited about the books.
So overall this book is one I will be recommending to you. Fans of speculative fiction, and Christians wanting to read something that doesn’t throw a ton of garbage in your face, will find many reasons to appreciate this novel. I find I’m compelled to make sure the entire Burning Empires series finds a home on my book shelf.
I want to thank you again Stephen R. Lawhead for another very enjoyable book, and for giving me some books to look forward to reading, Lord willing. I hope and pray that God leads you in the rest of the series!
If you’d like a copy of The Skin Map visit http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1595548041
For more on the series check out http://TheBrightEmpires.com
To see Stephen R. Lawhead’s website visit – http://www.stephenlawhead.com/
For other reviews and related information, visit some (or all) of the following sites from other CSFFBT members:
Thomas Clayton Booher
Morgan L. Busse
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Rachel Starr Thomson
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.