As I think I've mentioned before, Stephen Lawhead is one of my favorite (living) authors. He's one of the few authors whose books I will just pick up automatically when they're released. The problem with Lawhead, though, is that he frequesntly has a problem with endings, especially endings of series. The Fatal Tree
proves to be one of those ending failures, and it's unfortunate that such a strong story had to end with a face plant.
The first problem with the book is, as it turns out, the conflict is "cosmic" in nature. As revealed at the end of the previous book, The Shadow Lamp
, the end of the universe is coming. As I mentioned in my review
of The Shadow Lamp
, this is an issue because it changes the focus of the series. We believe during the first three books and most of the way through the fourth that conflict is with Burleigh, but, suddenly, no, although Burleigh is a bad guy, he is not the
bad guy. He is not the antagonist.
In fact, there is no real antagonist, not at that point, just an event that previously happened that, now, needs to be prevented. Remember the part in one of my previous reviews where I said this isn't a time travel story? Well, it's still not, but they still have to figure out a way to prevent something from happening that already happened. Except they don't really know that.
Actually, the major issue with this book is that the catastrophic event that was only discovered as a possibility at the end of book four is just suddenly happening. It's like if you were making tea: You put your water in your tea kettle, you turn on the burner on the stove, you set the kettle on the burner... You expect to need to have to wait for the water to heat up before you can make your tea, right? But not in this book. Instead, as soon as you set the kettle down, not only does the water start to boil, it explodes into steam. The sudden shift from trying to find the skin map to the universe could be in danger to THE UNIVERSE IS IMPLODING RIGHT NOW! was unenjoyable to say the least.
And, then, what do you do about the universe imploding? Absolutely nothing, that's what. It's kind of like standing in front of a tsunami and trying to stop it by holding up your hands. But Kit and his gang (because Kit has somehow become the leader) decide they're going to stop it. So they spend a lot of time talking about it and doing not much and never figure anything out.
The other issue, from a plot stand point, is the tree. The fatal tree. The fatal tree that, really, has nothing to do with anything. It's just there. There's a whole book, basically, devoted to this tree, and it doesn't really mean anything or have to do with anything. That was annoying.
Then there's Burleigh...
So, look, Lawhead writes Christian-themed books. I get that. As a Christian, I appreciate his general subtle application of Christianity into his stories. But not this time. Because Burleigh, as it turns out, isn't really our bad guy, he needs to have a conversion experience, which would be fine, except... Except that Lawhead spends chapters and chapters dealing with Burleigh and his descent into self-loathing so that he can finally come to understand that he's powerless on his own and does, yes, need God. This is all handled more like someone with an addiction needing to hit bottom to know that he needs help rather than someone coming to understand that it's grace that is needed. Also, it goes on way too long. In detail. It's tiring.
Basically, I was very dissatisfied with the book and how it ended the series. Too many things happen for no real reason other than that the author needed them to happen so he made them happen. There's no explanation or rational or anything. I'm sorry, but you don't write a whole book about a tree that just happened to be there and has no other purpose than that it happened to be there. Also, you don't have the "heroes" essentially save the universe on accident, even if that's what they wanted to do. I can't say the series, overall, was a waste of time (because books two, three and four were really very good), but I might have been more satisfied if I had never read this one and just wondered what happened.