A bit over six months ago, I reviewed The Skin Map, which I did not so much enjoy. However, Stephen Lawhead is one of my favorite authors, so I didn't give up on the series. It's a good thing, too, and this is one of the reasons I tend to persevere through books that don't necessarily seem all that great at the beginning, because the second book in the Bright Empire series, The Bone House, was excellent. It really was Lawhead at his finest, and the shape of the overall series is beginning to come into view by the conclusion of this second book.
On the surface, the series is all about time travel and the search for an ultimate treasure, but that's just the book at a glance and not what it's about at all. Rather than time travel, the books deal with multiple dimension theory, and Lawhead weaves this in as the backdrop to his story rather flawlessly. The only thing I have any complaint about are the squalls that happen any time the characters ley travel. That one thing seems a little overly dramatic, but the emphasis on that occurrence has lessened in the second book, so at least it's not right in my face anymore.
The dimensional travel is made more complex by the fact that the time streams of the various dimensions don't line up, so one can travel to all sorts of different times, so there is time travel, but it's not the typical kind of time travel where there's all the angst over what you can and can't do because you don't know what kind of paradoxes you might create. It's so nice not to have to deal with that, because, at this point, that bit of conflict in time travel stories has been done to death. And the truth is, in Bright Empires, the characters don't really know what they're doing or what kind of impact they may have or how changing things in one dimension may cause ripples in another, so that's rather interesting, too.
Kit, whom I did not care for in The Skin Map, is beginning to come into his own. He's no longer just letting things happen to him, and he's figuring out who he is. Still, his importance to the story seems somewhat questionable, but there is the glimmer of potential about him that was lacking in the first book. His willingness to learn and his search for knowledge gives us enough to want him to succeed as opposed to his whiny complaining in the previous book.
This book still gives us many different character perspectives, but Lawhead seems to have a better grip on the transitions between so many characters this time, and, instead of it being annoying and disjointed, you can begin to see the tapestry that Lawhead is weaving. You can see how the different threads relate and come together and, even, begin to anticipate some of them. It has the look of a complex story that will be satisfying to watch come together.
And, I have to say, I can't wait to get on to the third book, The Spirit Well.
One last note about persevering through books that start slow or don't seem that great at the beginning:
Yes, I know some of them don't get better. Some books are just bad or you don't enjoy them or whatever, BUT, sometimes, the book (or series) is good, and you just give up on it too soon. I see so often, not the least from agents, that there is no point in reading a book if it doesn't hook you on the first page or, even, the first paragraph, and I can't say how much I disagree with that viewpoint. Some of the best books I've ever read have taken a considerable investment from me to get into them or through them or whatever, but they were worth it. If I listened to these people that say to stop reading right away if you don't love it right away, I would never have read those books, and that would have been my own personal loss. If I'd quit reading Bright Empires because I wasn't enjoying The Skin Map, I would never have gotten to The Bone House, so, if you have any cause to believe that a book is good despite your first impression of it, I would urge you to persevere. You don't know what you might miss.
I have only put down a couple books without finishing them, and only after such a significant struggle that I just couldn't do it anymore. I may be more likely to do it now, but haven't run into a book lately that needed giving up on.ReplyDelete
Shannon at The Warrior Muse
I'll give a book several chapters. But I will put it down if it doesn't eventually grab me. I used to force myself to slog through bad books, but after my mind-numbing experience with The Terror by Simmons, I decided I'd never do that to myself again.ReplyDelete
To too? I couldn't believe how lame that was. I did slog through but hated every last word. Can't believe it's the same gun that wrote Hyperion.Delete
I'd have trouble getting past the title. Bone...huh huh.ReplyDelete
I used to ALWAYS persevere through a book, as if it were some rule that once you start one, you have to finish. But this coming from a type A control freak, so that may have been the problem. I'm with Alex, I'll give a book a couple of chapters, but I have so little reading time in my life I refuse to spend it on crap.ReplyDelete
Tina @ Life is Good
Glad you liked it, that's one chilling title.ReplyDelete
I agree with you on that thought Andrew. Sorry, but that first line or paragraph don't always have to reach out and smack me to get my attention. I tend to give a premise a bit of time--a few chapters at least. I've found there are reasons, many times, for the way the book starts. Once you get further into it you realize it was the perfect start.ReplyDelete
I won't lie, as a reviewer there have been a few that I've tried to read that just didn't hit the mark and a few that I could not get into, no matter how hard I've tried.
On series, there have been some installments I haven't enjoyed as much as others.
Enjoyed your article!
Sia McKye OVER COFFEE
Shannon: I more willing put down a book now than I did in my youth, but I'm still willing to give it more than a fair shake. I mean, I did, after all, finish reading Snow Cash.ReplyDelete
Alex: Dan Simmons? I've only read his sc-fi.
Tina: I know how that is. I still hate putting down a book part way through, but I have made exceptions. Like with Hawthorne. Ugh!
Sheena: So far all of these have great titles.
Sia: Yeah, I'm not saying that, once started, every book should be finished, but I do think that if you have any reason to believe that your impression of the book could be wrong then, maybe, you should wait it out.
If one put books down too quickly because of lousy beginnings then War and Peace would never have been read and that is a magnificent novel. Mind you, today I might not have persevered.ReplyDelete
JO ON FOOD, MY TRAVELS AND A SCENT OF CHOCOLATE
Jo: I still need to get to that one. My stack of books is SO tall.ReplyDelete
I have a listing of 41 pages on my Kindle with about a dozen books per page. Not only that I am still ordering books from the library. I must be nuts. Do read W&P it is a great book once you get past the first 100 pages or so which is basically telling you who everyone is. I was told to start reading at 101 and then go back later, I didn't, but it's not bad advice.ReplyDelete
JO ON FOOD, MY TRAVELS AND A SCENT OF CHOCOLATE
Sometimes books start slow, but are worth reading. I remember "The Fellowship of the Ring," which has very very slow parts to it. But "slow" is different thanReplyDelete
(different from? I don't know)
"bad." Like when I started reading "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and just couldn't get hooked, at all. I don't think it was just that it was slow. It was that it wasn't very well-written.
I've read lots of stuff that sounds dull on paper. "Longitude" is billed as "the true story of the man who invented the marine chronometer," and could have been boring, but the excellent writing and the way the story is put together make it worth reading.
So that's how I try to tell: if a book is a bit slow-paced, but the writing is good, I'll read it. But if it's just bad, or dense, or hard to get into, I've got better things to do.
I don't think it has to hook me on page one, but each line should make me want to read the next one, at least a little.
(FYI: I picked out my new classic book, based on a recommendation from Kurt Vonnegut, and it hooked me instantaneously.)
Also FYI: I'm going to post some more reviews of the excellent "Shadow Spinner" now that I've finished up a trial and have some time.
Jo: I avoid as much as possible picking up things that I'm not going to read right away. It's just too much stuff.ReplyDelete
Briane: Oh, well, bad writing is something else entirely, and you should be able to tell the quality of the writing within a relatively short time.
FYI: I'll be looking forward to your new classic.
Also FYI: I'll also be looking forward to those reviews.
Also, also FYI: You should check my Wed. post.
I don't really read series, so I am wondering if it is often the case that the second book is stronger than the first?ReplyDelete
MP: That hasn't really been my experience. I have found it more often the case that first book is better and the series goes steadily downhill from there.ReplyDelete
Yeah, I've persevered through many a book and been glad I did. I rarely give up on a book in the first about a third. I like stories that take their time to build.ReplyDelete
And sometimes I learn a life lesson as opposed to being entertained by a novel. At the least, I learn what I don't like in a book and perhaps avoid the same mistakes in my own writing.
Donna: Oh, yeah, I have a long list of "I hate when a novel has a ninja on a motorcycle delivering pizzas" type things.ReplyDelete
I'd better read this, because it sounds an awful lot like the book I am writing. I hope it's not the same, because I've been working on it for awhile now. :(ReplyDelete
Rusty: I was enough unimpressed by Endymion that I haven't managed to make myself try and read anything else by him.ReplyDelete
Kristen: I wouldn't worry about that. At all.ReplyDelete
After I finished House, I started reading The Dresden Files, and my first thought was, "Wow! We use a lot of the same concepts. People are going to think I stole these ideas." But I hadn't, and I knew I hadn't, because I'd finished writing the book before I started reading Dresden, and, truthfully, it doesn't matter what people think. And the truth is that we all "steal ideas" even without meaning to. And I blatantly used the Narnia idea in House, because that's the kind of thing I wanted to do.
My suggestion would be to finish your book, then read his, just to keep any influence out of your own work before you've finished. Once you've finished, don't worry about it. Your book won't be the same book, even if it does have similarities.
Speaking of books that start out slowly, let me ask you opinion of Lawhead's Taliesin. I recently tried to read it because it was recommended to me, but I honestly found it to be one of the most boring books I've ever tried. I didn't get very far into part two when it appeared that it wouldn't be much more interesting than part one, which was downright dull and, IMO, unnecessary to the plot. Also, I found all the characters to be dull. I didn't dislike them, but I couldn't manage to like them either.ReplyDelete
Now, I LOVE Arthurian legend and Welsh mythology and speculative stories about Atlantis, all of which this book is about. So it really should have been a perfect book for me. But I found the writing to be (here it is again) dull and unskilled. But more importantly the story telling was just... boring.
So what do you think of the book? Does Lawhead get better? Does the series get better? Should I give it another try?
Sarah: Well, it's been a long time since I read those books, but I really liked them. I mean, I really liked them. I do vaguely remember Taliesin starting slow, and, in one sense, the events in Taliesin are unimportant in that they're not exactly related to Arthur, BUT they are related to Merlin, and I loved that book. Of the three, Merlin is my favorite, but you really need the weight of Taliesin behind it.ReplyDelete
[I did, however, almost completely disenjoy the 4th book.]