Friday, April 8, 2011

The Skin Map

By Stephen R. Lawhead
Published by Thomas Nelson

Kit Livingstone is a normal enough man living in London. Everything changes quite quickly when he gets sucked into an adventure involving ley lines that are spread throughout England. Kit is torn from his mundane life by none other than his great-grandfather Cosimo, and the two set off to solve the mystery of the ley lines by finding the Skin Map, a document tattooed to a man’s body which contains all of the necessary secrets of traveling the leys.

Kit’s story is only one of several that are told in The Skin Map. One character who really starts to steal the spotlight is Kit’s girlfriend Wilhelmina. She winds up getting involved with the ley line travel (separated from her boyfriend quite unexpectedly) and is lost far in the past in an alternate-reality Prague. She meets a baker and sets up shop with him. Business doesn’t go well until she comes up with the brilliant idea of introducing coffee as a new and amazing product to the people of Prague.

Another character whose story is followed in The Skin Map is the man who wears the map on his very flesh. Arthur Flinders-Petrie is a man with secrets to keep and his own adventure adds another dimension to the novel. Instead of just hearing about the Skin Map through other characters, Lawhead lets the reader find out what the man himself was like.

At the beginning of the novel, it seems obvious that Kit is supposed to be the main character. However, as the book continues he seems to be shoved further and further away from the spotlight. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the ensemble cast certainly propels the story forward. The villain in The Skin Map also doesn’t get nearly enough pages devoted to him. This villain, Burleigh, is some kind of master of the ley lines (as evidenced by the fact that he winds up causing problems in the multiple realities Kit, Wilhemina, Arthur, and Cosimo find themselves in), but his story must be waiting to be fleshed out in the next book in this five-novel cycle.

One thing to put in the positive column about The Skin Map is the distinctive British flavor that Lawhead brings to his work. The opening parts about Kit and his run-of-the-mill existence in London were highly entertaining. The fact that the invention/introduction of coffee to a general populace served as such an important part of the plot also came across as a deliberate stroke of humor.

Things in the negative column are fairly minor. As mentioned before, Kit’s story comes dangerously close to being drowned out by the other stories, and the pace quickens probably a little too much in the last 75 pages.

Overall, Stephen R. Lawhead’s Bright Empires series is off to an exciting start.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Christopher Larochelle

Christopher Larochelle is a University of New Hampshire student coming close to being launched into the professional world in which he hopes to become a distinguished Writer of Stuff. He is an intern with New Hampshire Magazine, where some of his Stuff has begun to fill pages. He’s the guy with the comic book in front of his face, or the bass guitar or camera strapped around his neck, or maybe he’s at the computer typing something up for his shiny new blog here.

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