Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Book Review: The Skin Map

The Skin Map Book Trailer from Magnus Creative on Vimeo.

I'm a big fan of Stephen Lawhead. If you read this blog regularly, you know he's one of the few 'Christian Fiction' authors I enjoy. I've read most, if not all, of his novels, and recommend him regularly over other, lower-quality Christian authors.

This time, not so much. Lawhead's newest release, The Skin Map, was disappointing. It's the story of a young man swept into an alternate universe, and the girlfriend he (literally) loses along the way. It's also the story of an ancient map, and heroes and villains out to find that map and the secrets it holds. It reads like time travel, since each universe is at a different point in history as the characters jump to and through them. We spend time in merry old England, an 18th-century Chinese port, and ancient Egypt. The primary characters are very much children of the 21st Century, but those they interact with include Bohemian royalty, salt-of-the-earth serving wenches, lords and ladies and footmen, priests and bakers and gentry.

And yet, it felt a little stifled. Colorless. More like random jumping from point-to-point than the grand, sweeping epics that Lawhead is known for. Many of the characters show great promise, yet come across as lifeless. Sometimes he paints vivid pictures of a particular scene, but create minimal action to fill that scene. And if there's one piece of fiction writing that irritates me, it's the over-use of exalted descriptives like "She was easily the most beautiful women in the world" and "It was the most beautiful scenery he'd ever laid eyes on" and "He was the most frightening-looking man in the world" (note: those are not exact quotes from the book, but there are enough of them in there). Because, really? How do you know she's the most beautiful woman in the world? And by whose standards? Far be it from me to criticize a master like Lawhead, but this is the sort of freshman-level writing employed by people who don't know how to write vivid descriptions, which Lawhead has already proven he knows very well how to do.

Of course, it was in many ways just the book I needed right about now - a mindless adventure roaming across the centuries and continents. It did require a modicum of brainpower to follow the various subplots, not to mention understanding the physics behind the plot of ley lines and travel between multiple universes. Yet it spritely moved along from scene to scene, with just enough intrigue and action to keep the pages turning. There's enough here that I look forward to the next book in the series. In the end, though, I hope Lawhead isn't simply going through the motions now that he's an established writer. He's built up quite a reputation and fan following, and The Skin Map just doesn't live up to the standards he's already set.

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