By Stephen R. Lawhead
In Stores Now
For more than 20 years, Stephen Lawhead has been writing fantasy, science fiction and historial fiction. I was first introduced to Lawhead’s work in the late 1980s when I was in high school. My parents bought me Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle, a retelling of the Arthurian legends in a Celtic setting combined with parts of the Atlantis myth. At that time, I was a huge fan of David Eddings and Stephen R. Donaldson and happily devoured the original three books in the series.
Lawhead has written more than a dozen novels in the last 20 years, but the only ones I ever read were the two additional books Lawhead added to the Pendragon Cycle in the 1990s. I had always wanted to read more of Lawhead’s work, but there always seemed to be something else on my “To-Read List” that pushed his further down. But when I read about his new series, The Bright Empire series, I moved the first book to the top of the list. The ambitious, five-book series combines fantasy and science fiction in a way no other author has ever attempted.
Book one in the series, “The Skin Map,” opens with Kit Livingstone, an ordinary young Londoner who lives a boring existence until he is confronted by a crazy old man who claims to be his great-grandfather, Cosimo. The only problem is Kit’s great-grandfather disappeared more than 100 years ago and no one had seen him since. The crazy codger claims he has been traveling through time and alternate realities and needs Kit’s help.
After a quick jaunt along one of the ley lines for a lunch by the ocean in some other time, the younger Livingstone believes the old-timer is crazy and heads home to face his girlfriend, Wilhelmina, who is none too happy that he is late for their trip to pick out curtains for their bathroom. Before long, both Kit and his girlfriend are trapped in the past as Cosimo and his fellow Questors search for pieces of the titular skin map – a prize that has been separated into five pieces and when reassembled may lead to “the secret of the universe – or something even more significant and momentous.” But Cosimo and his cohorts are not the only ones looking for the mysterious map. There are others in search of the prize with less friendly ambitions.
While time travel and travel through alternate realities could make for a confusing story, Lawhead takes the plot threads and tells each individual story in a way that is easy to follow and entertaining. He slowly and carefully unravels the mystery surrounding the skin map. The characters grow and change as they adjust to their new realities and face the challenges of time travel. As this is the first book in a series, there are many unanswered questions and storylines left unresolved as the book ends. I’m glad the second book in the series is already out, because I am ready to read it as soon as I can.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I give “The Skin Map” a 4.