Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: Skin Map

We had an interesting experience here with my latest review book, The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead.  It came up at the Thomas Nelson site for review, and based on the publisher's description I thought it sounded like a fun book to read.  I requested it and dug in.  I thought I'd read it, and then possibly suggest it to my husband, but we hadn't discussed it at all.

A couple of days later, I headed to the library to pick up our holds.  And what had Dale put on hold?  The Skin Map, on audio.  He had done a search at the library for time travel, and thought this sounded intriguing.  So he listened to the book on his commute, while I was reading on my Nook.  Neither of us had any idea that the other even knew about the book.

From the publisher:
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 Livingston'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.
My take:

Well, first and foremost, I need to point out that this is book number 1 in a series.  And this is clearly not a series where the books stand alone.  I saw somewhere that book #2 is due out in the fall, so honestly, my recommendation would be to wait until then to read this book.

My kids have been doing a lot of literature analysis, or story sequence charts, or other such discussions about books lately.  One fairly common thing with all of them has been talking about the plot.  First, you have a section that sets up the characters and the setting.  Then there is some type of conflict, which leads to the rising action that normally encompasses the majority of the book.  Somewhere towards the end, you hit the climax where you know everything is going to work out (but you don't necessarily know how) and the falling action and conclusion types of stuff follow.  A good book, of course, will have multiple conflicts, so there will be different points where those plot lines peak, and maybe some won't be resolved. 

This book doesn't exactly follow that format.  First, it follows four different sets of characters through multiple times and places, with them sometimes interacting with each other.  But the primary conflicts of the story pop in almost immediately, and very, very few are even remotely wrapped up when the book abruptly ends.  In fact, both the final chapter and the epilogue introduce new issues.

That being said, this was a really fun book to read.  I was surprised at how well Lawhead handled all the different transitions between character groups.  There were only one or two points early in the book (well, and in the epilogue) where I was scratching my head trying to figure out who I was reading about.

In discussing the book with Dale, we both agreed that Lawhead did an excellent job of painting the scene when someone goes into another time and place.  All of the various times and places felt real, so clearly the author had done some research.

Dale particularly liked the concept of traveling without some gadget or device-- the time travel is happening by being in the right place (the ley lines) and knowing what to do.

This is a good book, but I would have enjoyed it more had I known that I shouldn't expect anything to be resolved when I reached the final pages.  Or if the next book was already available.  I think this would make a great late-summer read, because then the next book will be out soon!

Disclaimer: As a Booksneeze Blogger, I did receive this book for free from Thomas Nelson. No other compensation was received. For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

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