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.


Robert Treskillard said...

Great review. That dinner scene at the inn was fantastic. I especially like the "Apostle Spoon" detail ... very funny!

Hey, I'm giving away an SRL signed copy of The Skin Map at my blog ... spread the word!


Sarah Sawyer said...

I also liked the details he incorporated, but I have to say, the feast did not sound appetizing to me at all. One reason to be glad I don't live in that era!

Interesting comparison to Treasure Island. That didn't come to my mind, but now that you mention it, I can see the similarities.

Fred Warren said...

Nice review, Keenan. Definitely makes me want to read the book myself.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Oooohh, I like the designation "new Treasure Island." Excellent!


Keanan Brand said...

Hey, thanks y'all for stopping by!

Robert: I'd actually forgotten about the necessity in past eras of bringing one's own silverware to dinner, and then the spoons themselves -- good stuff!

Sarah: I didn't find certain things appetizing in that meal, either, but the fact that Kit was gorging himself made ME feel full, too.

Fred: You'll like it!

Becky: I think we like certain books (or kinds of books) as kids that we don't always find as adults. For me, reading The Skin Map was like finding that book.

Anonymous said...

lol I like your description of it being the new Treasure Island. That was a movie I loved watching as a kid and when you mentioned, it made me realize part of why I liked this book so much! Good review Keenan!

I too loved the description of them eating, and I loved the detail he put into describing Chen Hu, makes me want to read HIS back story some more.
Thanks for your thoughts!!!