Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lawhead's Skin Map

One of the authors I mention on my Of significance... page is Stephen Lawhead. He's long been one of my favorite authors and has some wonderful books. I got my introduction to Lawhead through his Pendragon Cycle which I read because I was interested in the Arthurian content. Prior to reading Lawhead, my exposure to the Arthurian legend had been things like Excalibur which, although full of knights in shining armor and all of that, were not very historically accurate. However, The Pendragon Cycle, although a work of fantasy, was being presented as historical fiction, and I wanted to see what it was about. The original Pendragon Trilogy remain my favorite Arthurian books to date (Jack Whyte's series comes close, though).

If you are at all interested in the Arthurian mythos, I would highly suggest Taliesin, Merlin, and Arthur, the original trilogy. Lawhead did go back later and add in a few more books. I don't remember liking Pendragon (the 4th book) very much, and I can't remember how I felt about Grail, so, maybe, I need to go back and read that again. The 6th book, Avalon, is not technically part of the series. It takes place in the near future and is about the return of Arthur and was quite good. Darn... now I'm wanting to go back and re-read all of them.

Lawhead is not always a great author. Some of his works are tremendous, but some are... less than good. The works that are great, though, are really, really great and make him an author I follow. My favorite book by him is Byzantium, also a work of historical fiction. More recently, he wrote a trilogy about Robin Hood. Prior to Star Wars, Robin Hood was my childhood hero. The first two books of that series, Hood and Scarlet, are great, although I felt he dropped the ball a bit on the final book, Tuck. It's probably a good book, but Hood and Scarlet are great, so I was let down when I got to Tuck.

All of that to say that I was very excited to hear about his Bright Empires series, especially since the title of the first book is so good: The Skin Map. What a great title! [And the next book, The Bone House, also has a great title.]  However, The Skin Map is somewhat of a departure from his usual style of writing. Lawhead generally sticks to just one POV at a time, even in books where more than one POV is used. Often, he will divide a book into sections so that each section is done from a different POV. Probably his most effective style is when he uses a narrator from within the story to tell the story about a different character. It's kind of a 1st/3rd person blend with a singular POV and most of his best books have been written in this style. [Now, I'm trying to think of other novels written this way, and I'm completely drawing a blank. Well, other than the Sherlock Holmes stories which are narrated by Watson.] The Skin Map, though, has five separate POVs (that I can remember off the top of my head) that he bounces between with no discernible pattern. I found this, from him, distinctly less effective than his style in his other novels.

I also didn't particularly care for his main character, although I am somewhat hesitant to call Kit the main character; he was, nevertheless, the central character around whom the story revolved, which may have been my issue with all the different POVs. We just spent too much time away from Kit for me to become invested in him. Since it seems apparent that Kit is the main character (based on the ending), it would have been nice to have more from him. Of course, like I said, I didn't much care for him. At the beginning of the book, he is a character to whom things happen only. He has no initiative, no ambition, no opinions. My response to him was, repeatedly, "Oh! My! Gosh!" There was an inkling of a change in him by the end of the book, but I'll have to reserve judgement until I read The Bone House.

So, yes, it was good enough that I want to read the next one, although I can not deny that part of that is on the strength of the author, not the book itself. It's hard to say whether I would want to read the next book if I didn't like Lawhead so much. The end of the book does open up a bit more, so to speak, but the first 2/3 were a real struggle to get through. A greater mystery is revealed towards the end, and there are some rather unexpected twists, so that may have been enough to make me want to go on even if it wasn't Lawhead. Since it is Lawhead, I'll be looking to get the next book soon.

At the moment, I'd give The Skin Map a "C," mostly because I struggled with it so much. It just seemed pretty typical. However, given that it's part of a series, my opinion on that may change as I read the next books. If, in retrospect, I can see that this was a great set up for what's going to happen, my opinion may change.

I ended the freebie special on "Part One: The Tunnel" (see the Shadow Spinner tab up top) a bit early. The first two days, it had brisk downloads, and it peaked at #26 on Amazon's contemporary fantasy list, which, I think is pretty good. However, the third day, the downloads dwindled, so I'm guessing that everyone that's going to download it, right now, has pretty much done so. I'll save the other two free days for a later date. Thank you to all of you that downloaded it! I hope you enjoy it.
"Part Two: The Kitchen Table" will be available Monday, August 13.


  1. I haven't heard of this author, though he sounds like one to check out. If King Arthur is your thing, I would recommend "Here Lies Arthur" by Phillip Reeve. It's a work of YA fantasy, but it completely reworks the entire legend in a way that makes amazing sense. I would definitely recommend it.

  2. The Skin Map is an awesome title. I accidentally purchased a YA book the other day and I'm trying to get through it right now. Not that it's awful or anything, but it doesn't feel as... Earnestly told as I would expect.

    Anyway, I'll make a mental note - the author is sometimes a genius, other times, not so much.

  3. he's certainly a prolific writer.
    I think #26 is good!

  4. Interesting take. I've heard of Lawhead, but have never read him. I may have to check him out.

  5. I haven't read him either, will have to check him out. I loved Jack Whyte's series, I thought they were excellent and so very probable.

  6. A few things:

    A. I'm going to get to your prize. For accounting reasons, it's later than usual. I'm terrible and I'm sorry.

    B. I know you write about writing, so I'm having a hard time telling whether your noticing Lawhead's writing in his new series is that problematic.

    What I mean is: When I notice the writing STYLE that almost always bodes poorly for the book. "The Law Of Nines" I noticed right away had a juvenile writing style -- sub-YA-- that detracted from the (also poor) story.

    Jonathan Franzen's writing in his last book, "Freedom," was different: it was too showy.

    (Read more about that here:

    So did you notice the writing because you're a writer? Or did you notice the writing because it detracted from the story like a microphone dipping into a movie scene?

    3. Points of view: In "The Red House," by one of my favorite authors, Mark Haddon, he switches points of view almost at random and I wasn't crazy about that at all; until I got used to it it was hard to tell what was going on.

    Books can become gimmicks if the point of view, or style, or other accoutrements, don't serve the story. In "Miss Peregrine" the photos became that: a gimmick, and the gimmick detracted from the book. So if there was no point to switching points of view, then it's a gimmick.

  7. I haven't read any of Lawhead's books. I guess I'm gonna have to change that.

  8. Yeah, Tuck was the first Lawhead book I picked up, and I didn't finish it. I was liking it well enough, but I just wasn't hooked enough to care how it ended. I may yet go back and read the other two in the Robin Hood series because I really do love those kinds of stories.

    Another author who writes about the Arthurian stuff is Bernard Cornwell, whom I met last year at a conference. Really likable and funny guy. I've read part of his Saxon series, but not the Arthur stuff yet, but I will one of these days when I have endless hours on my hands. :)

  9. I like Alex's comment - it's encouraging! I know exactly what you mean though. Things can be really slow a lot of the time! And I'm certainly nowhere near making a living as an author. Maybe one day :-)

  10. Whaaaat? I definitely opened the other post just now and not this one. How did my comment end up here instead?! Okay, I'm gonna copy it over to the correct post!

  11. I agree with you on the King Raven Trilogy. Tuck was definitely a let down when compared to the other two.

    I haven't read the Bright Empires series yet. It's sitting on my bookshelf, waiting patiently for its turn.

  12. Those titles are awesome. Just based on those, I would check those novels out, but I also love Lawhead. He hooked me with Hood and Scarlett. I haven't had a chance to read Tuck. Perhaps that's for the best.

  13. Ravena: I'll take a look at it, although I'm not incredibly fond of "new spins." I didn't like the recent Arthur TV series because they took too many liberties with the story, so, if it's someone being "clever" with the legend, I probably won't care for it.

    Rusty: Start out with the original Pendragon trilogy. It's hard to go wrong with those.

    Alex: He's written a few books, yes.

    Matthew: I think you'd like the Pendragon stuff.

    Jo: Yeah, Whyte did a great job. I loved how he really set everything in a completely realistic setting and gave a sense of how the legend could have grown from the events that happened in the books.

    Briane: Well... the style may not be an issue for other people. I think I noticed it because I was expecting one thing based upon his other books, and that's not what I got. Aside from that, though, the story jumped around too much for me, especially as it pertained to two of the characters (and I can't say why without giving stuff away). I understand why those parts were in there (he wanted to get info across you couldn't get from the MC), but they just didn't seem to fit with everything else. Maybe it will work out in conjunction with the rest of the books, though.

    Michael: Yeah, you, in particular, should read the Pendragon stuff.

    L.G.: I've heard of Cornwell, but I haven't ever looked at his stuff.
    I think you'd like Hood and Scarlet and, probably, Patrick (about St. Patrick). They seem like right up your alley.

    Rachel: LOL No problem. I don't know if I'm trying to "make a living," but I certainly wish it could even be called augmenting the family income.

    M.J.: Yeah, it was. I'm allowing whatever illness happened between #2 and #3 to serve as an excuse. I need to pick up Bone House.

    Stephanie: See, I can't even decide which I liked better between Hood and Scarlet! I don't know what to say about Tuck; it does wrap up the story, but it's just not as good.

  14. You're right about The Skin Map and others being great titles~ that's the kind of thing that would definitely compel me to at least take a look!