The Skin Map
I recently received an electronic copy of The Bone House by Stephen R. Lawhead. I have Mr. Lawhead's quartet on the Arthurian Legend and enjoy his writing. I found though, that The Bone House was the second book in his Bright Empires series and decided to start with the first book, The Skin Map. It appeared that the series was going to be mostly based on time travel, with maybe a historical fiction bent. What I found instead, was an intriguing fantasy story where the characters travel, not through linear time, but to alternate times in alternate worlds, each with their own reality. These realities may be the same as those of the "home world", as our world is called, or they may be different. The concept was intriguing enough to get me to continue with both the book and the series.
In this, the first of the series, the author spends a lot of time introducing and developing his characters, as well as the impetus of the story, which is a series of quests. As such, there is a lot of explaining the reason for the quest, the development of the characters and their stories, and the actual way that the ley travel used by the characters works. At times it may seem that the author is spending more time explaining and less time story telling, but stick with it. It is eminently worth it in the end.
I went from this book directly into the second book, The Bone House, and as I expected, the characters continue to grow and the story becomes more developed.
The Bone House
The Bone House is the second book in Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series. The characters in this series travel through reality landing in other worlds and other times in their quest for The Skin Map (the title of the first book in the series) and the ultimate prize that it will reveal. If you think this books sounds like just another one of the many time travel books that are the current rage, it is not. In fact, the characters will tell you time and again that they are not merely traveling through linear time, but jumping to alternate worlds where the reality may or may not be the same as in our world. It is an interesting and intriguing proposition that the author is only beginning to reveal the effects of in this book.
If you have read the first book in this series, and I strongly suggest that you do, you will find many familiar characters here. You will also be introduced to some new players in the quest for the map and its ultimate prize. As the familiar characters continue their quest, we learn more about them, their lives, and their motives. The mix of familiar and new in the characters of the book was something that I felt kept the story fresh as well as building on the base that Lawhead had laid down in the first book of the series.
What I liked the most about this book is that it is not your typical epic fantasy adventure. Would I classify it as fantasy? Yes. But more than just fantasy, the Bright Empires series is an exploration by author Stephen Lawhead of human exisitence. Of where we come from and where we are going. What it isn't is non stop adventure. Don't get me wrong...there are sections where the characters find themselves in hot water and you find yourself turning the pages to see how, or if, they manage to get out of the situations they find themselves in. What I liked more, though, was the beautiful stories within the story. The stories of the individual characters. What motivates them and makes them who they are. I also like the brief glimpses of other times and places throughout history. How the people in those times and places might have thought and felt, and how the interactions of people from various realities may alter reality in all places.
In short, this book is a beautifully developed story of the human race in general, and the cast of characters in specific. While it may not make my top ten list of all time for fantasy books, it is an extremely enjoyable romp through time. I am now axiously awaiting book three which is scheduled for Sept. 2012.