Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Skin Map - Day 3

All good things, as they say, must come to an end. Why, I don't know. It's just what "they" say. So, alas, this marks the final day of the CSFF Blog Tour for Stephen R. Lawhead's new novel, The Skin Map, first in the Bright Empires series.

Sometimes, the final day of a tour is for discussing the things I didn't like about a particular book. Well, just doing that would make this a very short post indeed.

The one thing that dampened the reading experience was the mention, by Cosimo, of evolution as if it were fact. This occurred early on in the book, when he was telling Kit about cave lions, the creatures used by the Burley Men. I am one of those Christians who doesn't believe that the theory of evolution can coexist with biblical Christianity. It's not considered intelligent to reject evolutionary theory as valid science, but I'm not interested in other people's opinions of my intelligence, and I might question whether or not they remember some of their basic school science i.e. the laws of thermodynamics, which present obstacles to the theory. (Just a reminder: laws trump theories.)

A literary aside: The word evolution means change, and is generally used to denote change for the better, just as progress is also often used as a positive word, even though progress is really just movement forward along a particular line, whether going in such a direction is good or bad. While writing or reading, we take the word out of its neutral state and assign it positive or negative connotations. That's what I love about language, how symbols (letters) are assigned sounds, how those sounds are strung into words, and how words can express ideas, those speechless things that dwell in our minds. How cool is that?

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Skin Map is an enjoyable read, easy to follow, intriguing, humorous, and just downright fun.

My intelligence wasn't insulted by over-explaining; ever read those books where you're talking to the page, "Yeah, yeah, I get it. Move on"? This is not one of those.

Some readers have found the storyline hard to comprehend, because it moves from one time to another and there is more than one set of characters to follow, but that was not a problem for me. The characters may end up in various places in time, but their story is always moving forward. As Kit says early in the book, easy peasy.

As for the issue of messing with history by changing it, well, that is addressed, too, as is the idea of whether or not it's possible for the characters to move forward in time. Although the intellectual side of me is interested in those questions, the little-kid-dreaming-of-adventure side of me doesn't really care. Remember those halcyon days of youth when anything was possible, and the more outlandish the tale, the better you liked it? The Skin Map works, I think, because Lawhead handles the wildly impossible as if it were absolutely possible, and he does it with excellent craft. Readers can trust the storyteller to not only tell a great tale, but tell it well.

I highly recommend this book. For other reviews, click here to access a list of more stops on the tour.

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

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Skin Map - Day 2

Welcome, welcome, welcome to the otherworldly  -- other-dimensionly? -- realm of The Skin Map, first in the Bright Empires series by Stephen R. Lawhead.

This series has the makings of a ripping good yarn. With titles like The Skin Map and The Bone House (just the first two in the series), and then old-fashioned chapter headings, such as "In Which Old Ghosts Meet" and "In Which Dragons Are Not Confined to Statues", Lawhead has created an old-time classic literature feel and welded it to an almost futuristic tale. I'm digging it.

One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind as Kit first joined Cosimo in a new dimension: "Wow. It's like I'm reading the new Treasure Island."

Yup. You read that right. The new Treasure Island.

After all, there's a map -- a tattoed human skin, to boot -- and a treasure hunt of sorts; a young man on a wild and unexpected adventure; a villain able to wear a friendly face (remember how friendly yet how treacherous Long John Silver could be?); exotic settings, even if "exotic" is only in the eye of a bewildered beholder; and then, of course, tall ships and tattoo parlors, though I don't recall any such parlors in Treasure Island, but who cares? It's all in the vibe.

I often skip description because either 1) it bores me, or 2) it's too clunky to read. Not so for The Skin Map. Lawhead writes the descriptive passages well, taking the reader to different times and places with such ease that it's almost as if he's actually been there and is just reporting his travels back to the reader. The story could not exist apart from those details, because the setting and the time periods and the people who inhabit them are integral to the tale. Take this passage, for instance:
Macau sweltered beneath an unforgiving August sun, and the Mirror Sea was calm. The tall ships in Oyster Bay, the few wispy clouds in the sky, the lazily circling seabirds -- all were faithfully replicated in precise detail in their liquid reflections. And none of it evaded the hooded gaze of Wu Chen Hu as he sat on his low stool before the entrance of his small shop on White Lotus Street, above the harbour.
Almost drowsing in his doorway on a hot day, Chen Hu is not just a character inserted into the landscape as a prop. His craftsmanship creates the skin map. That humid, lazy day is important. Something happens to break the stillness.

Earlier in the story -- in Chapter 6, "In Which Kit Acquires an Apostle Spoon" -- three of the main characters share a meal at The Pope's Nose. Kit has never eaten many of the dishes with which he is presented, and some he likes more than others, as Lawhead takes the reader on a gastronomic trip back in time. I confess, as I started that chapter, I had been contemplating what to make for supper; by the time I finished reading it, I'd forgotten about my hunger, and didn't actually get around to eating anything until a few chapters later, when my stomach reminded me there's a difference between imagination and reality.
By the time Kit pushed himself away, his bowl was a slaughterhouse tangle of bones and gristle, and his cheeks, chin, and hands were dripping with grease. He felt as if he might possibly explode from internal pressure, and that, all things considered, this would probably be for the best.
Yeah, we've all been there, some time or another, probably right after a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Interspersed with the well-written descriptions are historical references that also help ground the reader into whichever time and place a particular scene is set: Oliver Cromwell, for instance, or London's Pudding Lane in 1666. Such details lend reality and concreteness to an otherwise fantastical tale, and they also act as a kind of shorthand, implying much about the setting and providing opportunity to further the story.

And I wasn't bored once!

Click here
to access the list of other stops on the tour.

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

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Skin Map - Day 1

Had he but known that before the day was over he would discover the dimensions of the universe, Kit might have been better prepared. At least, he would have brought an umbrella.

An excellent beginning -- intriguing and humorous -- and the opening lines of Stephen R. Lawhead's The Skin Map. As for the dimensions of the universe, well, that's the story. And, as it turns out, there's more than one.

While rushing to meet his girlfriend but encountering obstacles at (literally) every turn, Kit -- or, Cosimo Christopher Livingstone, to be more precise -- is forced to abandon motorized forms of travel and use his feet instead. In the rain.

The storm begins after he enters an old street in modern London. The street goes on and on, and he is already late, so Kit turns back. It is then that he meets a man who should be dead -- well over one hundred years ago.

And then there is, of course, the one thing the Questors and their adversaries, the Burley Men, are trying to find, if only they can piece it together: a map of all the ley lines, the places where dimensions touch, tattooed on human skin.

The Skin Map draws the reader in with excellent writing, an intriguing premise, gentle and intelligent humor, historical references, appealing characters, detailed settings, and an interesting yarn. And did I mention excellent writing?

Over the remaining two days of the CSFF Blog Tour, I'll discuss other aspects of the novel, the first in Lawhead's new series, Bright Empires. Meantime, check out other stops on the tour:
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
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