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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Skin Map (Bright Empires #1) by Stephen R. Lawhead

It is the ultimate quest for the ultimate treasure. Chasing a map tattooed on human skin. Across an omniverse of intersecting realities. To unravel the future of the future.

Kit Livingstone's great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds. To those who know how to use them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily inhabit only a tiny part.

One explorer knew more than most. Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery. Ever on his guard and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code--a roadmap of symbols--that he tattooed onto his own body. This Skin Map has since been lost in time. Now the race is on to recover all the pieces and discover its secrets.

But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal. It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining.

The Bright Empires series--from acclaimed author Stephen Lawhead--is a unique blending of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery. The result is a page-turning, fantastical adventure like no other.

Released: August 31st 2010   Pages: 448
Publisher: Thomas Nelson     Source: Library
First Look: ****This was one of those cases where a book "recommended itself", so to speak.  I loved Stephen R. Lawhead's Dragon King trilogy, so I figured this would be just as awesome.  And besides, I always love a good time travel or parallel universe book.  However, the cover could be improved by getting rid of the unnecessary disembodied eye.

Setting: ***** 
I found it hard to keep track of the characters' location at any point throughout the novel.  For the first half or so, I was fine, but then the number of point of views starting increasing, and people starting jumping around in time.  At that point, I had mostly lost interest, but my statement still stands.  It took me a minute to reorient myself at the beginning of each chapter, trying to figure out where the characters had gone now.

Other than that, I have no specific comments.  It was cool to read about the old-fashioned time periods and places, but it lacked anything to make me truly love it. 

Characters: ***** 
Kit, the main character, lacks personality and dimension.  He's a passive protagonist who doesn't make anything happen by himself.  The plot is more him reacting to things than him taking action.  And, after 448 pages, I'm still as clueless about his personality as I was when I started.  Is he introverted or extroverted?  I don't even know, and that's something I should be able to figure out fairly soon, given a non-flat protagonist.  He just goes along with everything, reacting way too calmly to accidentally traveling through time.    

Another major character, Mina, has more personality.  She's driven, outgoing, and sensible.  And yet, she didn't strike me as realistic.  While a normal person would react to accidentally being transported back a few centuries by freaking out, panicking, going into shock, etc., she stays mostly calm, like Kit.  Instead of focusing her energy on getting home, she puts all her energy into starting a bakery, and when that fails, a coffeehouse that (somewhat randomly) becomes a nationwide sensation almost overnight.  Er...okay?  I had no idea what to make of this, because it seemed so random and unnecessary.  On top of all this, she seamlessly and instantly adjusts to an unfamiliar era with no showers, wi-fi, running water, or plague-free medical care.
Plot: ***** While this might have been a little better with more compelling characters, I was still bored by the plot.  How does a plot that involves time travel in alternate dimensions get boring?  My main problem is that it lacks a definite goal.  At first, it just seems like Kit only wants to get back home, but suddenly he gets sucked into all sorts of things that I lost track of, and it all spirals from there.  

That's not even counting the fact that probably a hundred or so pages of this book are devoted to Mina's quest to run a successful coffeehouse.  I learned more about how to run a coffeehouse in Prague in the 1600s, or whatever year it was, than I ever wanted to know.  It distracted me from the actual time travel plot, and didn't seem to fit.    

Uniqueness: ****It's a unique take on both time travel and ley line mythology.  While some elements felt a little overused, overall, it didn't feel like it borrowed heavily from other, similar books.

Writing: ****Stephen R. Lawhead can write.  His style feels sophisticated, yet readable.  It's elegant.  I remember noticing the same things while reading his Dragon King trilogy.  Still, I wish there weren't so many different points of view in this book.  It introduces new characters late into the novel, and none of it seems to truly connect (though this might work itself out in the later books in the series).  The different points of view jump around enough to be confusing.  I wish this book would've just focused on one or two characters--that way, it would have felt more focused.

Likes: The cover is pretty.

Not-so-great: Nothing not already mentioned above.

Overall: I spent much of this book glancing at the page numbers and wishing it would start getting interesting.  It's written in a lovely and elegant style, but it just didn't capture my interest.  The main character, Kit, has little to no personality.  Another major character, Mina, is a little better, but she adjusts to time travel too quickly to make sense.  The plot doesn't have much direction and focus, which isn't helped by having several point of view characters.  A major part of the plot is actually focused on Mina running a coffeehouse, which feels really random.  Overall, I didn't hate this, and I liked how it was written, but I just couldn't get into it.  I don't plan on continuing with the series.

Similar Books: It involves ley lines like The Raven Boys.  It features time travel/interdimensional travel, like The Obsidian Mirror, The Reluctant Assasin, and is written by a Christian author, like House of Dark Shadows.

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