Stephen Lawhead’s prowess as a writer certainly shows through in The Skin Map, the first in his Bright Empires series, and it makes for a generally entertaining read.
With a lively vocabulary, sprightly characters and a charming air about it that sees you flit through the pages, you can really enjoy the attention that Lawhead pays to the small details in scenes, situations and the main subplot. In fact, this particular story is one of the better parts of the book, where Wilhelmina, who is separated from her boyfriend Kit during their first encounter with a ‘ley line’, transforms into a thriving businesswoman. It’s just a shame that the main story isn’t as successful.
Kit Livingstone is plucked from London into an interdimensional adventure with his great grandfather, where they attempt to track down the only existing map of the leys and portals connecting a multitude of parallel universes.
It’s a great setup, but Kit isn’t involved in much beyond a couple of failed rescue attempts. If it wasn’t for the steady leaping between storylines and POVs then this thin plot wouldn’t have supported the well-crafted world of The Skin Map, to say nothing of the annoying use of a deux ex machina. More than anything, though, it seems to be more the case that Lawhead got a little caught up in the tone.
The dialogue skirts the edges of a Restoration-era influenced English, as both Kit and Mina find themselves mostly in a 1600s Europe, and the polite geniality of most interactions dispenses with any sense of urgency or threat. The antagonists don’t seem particularly antagonistic either, and it feels as though an element of challenge is missing from this story, which is altogether too quaint.