Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Follow The Skin Map to Fantastical Time-Travel Adventures

  • Kelley Mathews Contributing Writer
  • Published Sep 20, 2010
Follow <i>The Skin Map</i> to Fantastical Time-Travel Adventures

Author:  Stephen R. Lawhead

Title:  The Skin Map
  Thomas Nelson

Time travel makes for fascinating but nauseating adventure. So discovers Kit Livingstone, when he meets his great-grandfather Cosimo after an unexpected foray through one of Britain's ley lines. Apparently these mythological pathways into the past are more real than Kit ever imagined.

After accidentally stumbling through one such force field, Kit is drafted by his long-lost ancestor to join the ultimate treasure hunt. The prize—a skin map that will lead its owners to the secret of the universe "or something even more significant and momentous." The skin map is just that, one man's flesh tattooed with a map depicting his experiences jumping through alternate realities and time periods. After it was separated into five pieces, subsequent travelers sought to reassemble the map in order to fulfill their own ambitions.

Wary and disbelieving of Cosimo's bizarre claims, Kit returns to his own time and place. But nothing is normal again, and he soon leads his unsuspecting girlfriend, Wilhemina, into her own alternative reality—separate from his. Alarmed, he and Cosimo spend much effort (and time?) trying to find her. Where did she go? To when? And will the skin map help?

Kit and Cosimo not only pursue the map, they are pursued by others who want the map for their own nefarious schemes. Overriding this great adventure, where timeliness and timelessness both matter, lies the truth that none of the rival hunters realize—the skin map itself is not the ultimate prize. They are searching for nothing less than Paradise regained.

Fans of Stephen Lawhead should rejoice, for he has labeled this new work as the beginning of the story he's been writing in his head for twenty years. Yes, The Skin Map is only book one in his Bright Empires series. Don't expect the book to wrap up its loose ends in a tidy manner. No, the plot strands straggle in the wind by the last page, leaving readers with more questions and no small amount of frustration that the next installment is a full year away.

With such a vast canvas of time and location to work with—limited only by his imagination and research—Lawhead's challenge lay in establishing each setting truthfully and colorfully. He succeeded. Ancient Egypt, 19th century England, and 17th century Prague all come alive through intimate details, highly researched and expertly checked. Lawhead appeals to the reader's senses through wonderful descriptions of smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and touches. You'll feel like you are there with the travelers.

Lawhead also strategically uses bits of vernacular language, depending of course on where and when in the world his characters find themselves. The German and Arabic phrases lend another touch of authenticity to the story, adding to the overall experience.

One gets the sense that individual characters, while interesting and fun to follow, are not the main attraction in the story. The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad, though we do not always know their motives. It's the search, the adventure, the hunt itself that looms over the personalities to imprint its own signature in the mind of the reader.

Lawhead's self-described "super fantasy" is off to a great start!

**This review first published on September 27, 2010.