Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Skin Map (book review)

Hello my minions. It is now time for a book review of The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead. 

The Skin Map (Bright Empires)Here's the skinny: Once upon a time there was a guy who could travel between worlds (dimensions/universes/etc.), and to keep himself from ever getting lost he tattooed a map onto himself.  Then he died.  Now all the other explorers would like to have his skin so they won't get lost, either.  Also, it appears he may have discovered the secret of the universe.  Clever boy.  Except for the being dead part. 

Enter washed up layabout Kit Livingstone who, it turns out, has a latent ability to travel between worlds himself.  His great great great grandfather shows up and recruits him to the hunt for the Skin Map (eww).  Unfortunately, in one of his jaunts through the worlds, Kit has carelessly lost his girlfriend in another dimension/time/world.  So now the race is on to comb the multiverse for his girlfriend and the map.  Yes, there are bad guys.  Also coffee. And some sort of prehistoric sabre toothed cat or something.  Her name is Baby.

Things I liked about this book:  I enjoyed this book pretty well, honestly.  I'm a sucker for multiple universe stories, and Kit's great grandpa gave off a faint Dr. Who vibe (possibly as a result of being British) that I found enjoyable.  The historical settings were interesting, and I thought the spiritual content was (overall) well done and didn't detract or distract from the story.  The characters were likeable and I would have been happy for them to overcome all the odds stacked agains them in a spectacular climax that spanned several worlds.  That's not what happened, but that's what I would have liked to see.  The pace of the book wasn't a headlong race after the map, which was puzzling but also enjoyable.  It was a pretty relaxed, easy-going kind of race.  And I will say that Mr. Lawhead's writing never got in the way of the story.  He's a solid writer who knows what he's doing, and when there were confusing moments or strange occurences I knew I could trust that he would take care of me as the book progressed. 

On the Other Hand. I wish that the book hadn't been just the first part of a series.  I think I can fairly say that multiple subplots and even major plot points are not resolved, that characters disappear, reappear at other times and are then ignored, and all this with the implicit promise that I will get answers if I read book two.  My preference would have been to have at least some of the plot resolve.  And (SPOILER -- STOP NOW IF YOU HAVEN'T READ IT AND PLAN TO) I found it odd that, for instance, the missing girlfriend isn't "found"... she just reappears at the end of the book without any explicit explanation.  The heroes are just bumbling through the plot to some degree.

And one other thing that bothered me. It seemed to me that sometimes the characters did something dumb just to make the plot advance the correct way.  Here's a complete SPOILER example.  Two of the characters have a section of the skin map squirreled away somewhere.  They go to get it out and discover (gasp) it has been stolen.  Now they are out of luck.  Because they never copied it.  It's a priceless artifact because of the drawing on it, but no one thought to make a copy. 

And one last little annoyance.  I had this feeling that about page 371 the author realized Ooops, I've come to the end of my page count for part one, I better quickly wrap some things up a little bit but not too much.  This involved leaping over a few events that needed a chapter or two.

A final word.  I enjoyed the Skin Map.  It seemed like a more accessible (and less enjoyable) version of the Connie Willis Oxford time travel stories (which, if you haven't read them, are well worth your time).  At the same time, it seems a bit early to rush to judgment since this is really only the first part of the story, and it may well be that when the story is taken all together that it will be quite good.  I certainly think it has that potential.

And now, if you will excuse me, I am going to slip into another dimension where I am the author of all of Stephen Lawhead's books and he is reviewing them.  And also I am the founder of Microsoft. 

If you'd like to see some more thoughts on The Skin Map, check out all my buddies on the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Tour:

Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson


  1. Anonymous2:00 PM

    Some excellent, well thought out comments, Matt. Thanks for rendering such a complete review.

    Yes, I'll put up with a lot when I've (most often, unconsciously) decided to trust an author. I shrugged off a worrisome thing or two, but for the most part, I still believe Mr. Lawhead will come through, if not in book two, then in one of the others.


  2. Anonymous2:08 PM

    Loved the review. About Wilhelmina, my favorite character, besides Etzel: she did ask for a doohickey to be made after Burleigh ordered his. I'm thinking she is the real deal in this series.

  3. pongboy9:40 AM

    Okay, this is way over my brain cell count! And what, no Eloi or Morlocks?!