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.