The Skin Map, by Stephen R Lawhead, a review

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 visithttp://www.stephenlawhead.com/

For other reviews and related information, visit some (or all) of the following sites from other CSFFBT members:

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
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
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

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

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Book of Names book review

A review of:

The Book of Names, by D. Barkley Briggs (NavPress, 2008 )

From the Legends of Karac Tor

The book started off slow.  Honestly I found it hard to keep reading.  But after a few chapters I found I was beginning to enjoy the story. 

I started to remember what it was like to be a boy in a rural Michigan town, intrigued by the mysteries of Native American culture.  We would get all excited when we found arrowheads in the fields.  But what these boys encounter is something that would have blown my mind as a kid.

The book makes a good transition as it gets further into the story.  I didn’t feel like any of the elements were forced upon me, they seemed to flow as they should have.  And as with any good book I read, I was inspired over and over again to imagine new things that I could write about.

The villains in the story were set up pretty good.  A few things that were said made me question who the real villains might be, keeping me on edge until the last.

The allies were well thought out as well.  Very believable.

Overall I really enjoyed the book.  I’m looking forward to reading the next novel in the Legends of Karac Tor series.

A couple of things did bother me though.  The first, which I will keep in this paragraph, may be a bit of a spoiler.  Go ahead and skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to read it.  The way that Briggs mixes Christianity with other religions in our reality really didn’t set well with me.  I understand that these other worlds are fantasy worlds.  But taking their mystical elements and combining them with the world we live in and yet trying to hold the Christian world view… there’s a line that’s crossed there.  It’s good to open people’s eyes to the realities of Christianity which we do not normally recognise.  It’s another thing to add actual magical elements to a truth that rejects those very things.  I’m hoping that Briggs has something planned out in future novels to rectify this problem.  Though he writes well, I will truly be surprised if he finds a good way to pull it off (I don’t think there is one).

The other thing that bothered me was the use of cussing at the end of the book.  The problem I listed in the last paragraph is one that Briggs may have an ace up his sleeve to rectify in another volume (though I doubt it’s a direction he’s even considering).  But this cussing thing, there is no ace for that.  One representing a Christian view has no excuse for using that language anywhere.  It’s something that Christ had to die to forgive.  The need to represent the world the way it is… that’s no valid excuse for sin (there is no valid excuse for sin).  The world has been far better portrayed by the Lord Himself in the Bible than by any other writer, and that without a single cuss.  We owe the Lord better than this relying on the world.

These two problems and the slow start aside, I found that I really enjoyed the book.  Don’t let the size of the paragraphs that I complained in deceive you.  I just don’t want to accidentally spoil the experience of the read.  The story was very enjoyable, well written, and seems to be very well thought out.  Briggs created a world with great depth, and I’m eager to see the rest of it.

I would caution against suggesting this book to non-Christians, unless non-Christians are informed of what the Bible says about these two problems.  For any Christians who struggle with mysticism, paganism, wicca or magic… I would advise against reading this book.  For those who look to justify foul language, this book (though only in one part near the very end) will place a stumbling block before their feet.  For any other familiar with the truth of the Lord, as long as they are conscious of and reject the offerings of these issues, I don’t think they’ll have a problem reading this book.  And if they are fantasy fans, I’m guessing they’ll really enjoy it!

Thank you Briggs for your creation.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of what you have to offer.

Featured book, The Book of Names http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/160006227X
D. Barkley Briggs’s Web site –
http://hiddenlands.net/index.php?Itemid=49&id=19&option=com_content&task=view
D. Barkley Briggs’s blog –
http://hiddenlands.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=23&Itemid=79

For more reviews of this book, check out the following blogs:
Sally Apokedak
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Rachel Briard
Valerie Comer
Frank Creed
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Magma
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Alice M. Roelke
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Timothy Wise

The Lost Genre Guild

As some of you know, Christian speculative fiction is a genre that’s not really a part of the general Christian publishing industry.  Authors writing fantasy, sci-fi, alternate reality, spiritual warfare, and other spec-fic  books with a Christian world view have a hard time convincing big Christian publishers that their books will sell.  Their books are not usually the ones picked up on bookshelves.

But that doesn’t mean there’s not an audience.  There is, in fact, quite a large group of people who love Christian spec-fic.  They just spend their time in other places.  Some authors and readers have banded together to reach this audience.  One such group is the “Lost Genre Guild.”

http://www.lostgenreguild.com is where the group can be found online.  They have something for anyone with an interest in Christian spec-fic..

Readers:

  • A list of quality books to read
  • Reviews to help you find the right book for your current mood
  • People who are working to encourage authors to write what you like

Authors:

  • Reviews to help market your material to the right people
  • Links to other groups that support what you write
  • Publisher links specific to Christian spec-fic
  • Contacts for author helps

Beyond these benefits, this is a chance for both readers and writers to partake in a work that brings glory to God Almighty, the Great Story Maker.  All good things come from Him; and when a book’s author understands that, they are able to tap into something that touches the very soul of man. 

So please visit the site, and be a part of what they are doing.  You’ll find good resources, no matter your part in the telling of good fiction.

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For more information on the LGG, and for more on Christian Spec-Fic, please check out the following blogs…

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Grace Bridges
Valerie Comer
Courtney
Frank Creed
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Lost Genre Guild
Mike Lynch
Magma
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Mirtika
Hanna Sandvig
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Timothy Wise