CSFF Tour – The Shadow Lamp, Day 3

In Which The Butter Is Stretched Too Thin Over The Toast

Hello again CSFF Tour fans. The monthly focus on Christian speculative fiction is wrapping up on the fourth book of the Bright Empires series, The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead. Yesterday I did a brief recap of the other three books so far. This link will take you to all of my prior posts on the Bright Empires series. 
Lawhead said this was an ambitious series for him and that he didn’t think he could write something like it earlier in his career. Now he was at a point that he could wrestle it.
Out of four rounds so far, the score card for this fight would be Lawhead 3 to 1. Unfortunately, The Shadow Lamp misses the mark in comparison to the other books. 
It is a major challenge to find a story that can stretch for a trilogy, much less five books. There has to be enough conflict and high enough stakes to carry a reader through to the end.
The Bright Empires series has a significant crisis to solve by the end of book five – the potential destruction of the universe. So that’s something.
The problem with book four is that it became too much of a set up story. There is a lot of shuffling the pieces to get them into the proper position. However, the stakes do not often grab the reader and make them care enough about what happens. 
For instance, Lady Fayth and her loyal manservant Giles separate from the main group of heroes and get lost in an unknown dimension. There are harrowing circumstances, but the reason for their departure and the subsequent trial is nebulous. I shrugged my shoulders. Okay, why did that happen?
There are numerous plot points swirling around from the various players trying to figure out ley travel through dimensions for their own purposes. Some of them explain some background or seem to be moving somewhere, only to fizzle out. Maybe there is more to the story of Douglas, or the pirate attack suffered by the Burleigh men, but the significance was lost to me.
There were also two gatherings where educated people talked. A lot. They set up the huge consequences that happened in the prior book and pointed to the final act, but there wasn’t much action or development within The Shadow Lamp itself.
The writing quality was still well done. Lawhead is so good at description and setting from his research and experience. I’m invested enough in the story that I will see it through to the end. I have faith that the last installment will be worth following this series for five years from when it released to its conclusion next year. But The Shadow Lamp will be the filler episode that is quickly forgotten in the midst of the other books.
One other factor has been discussed elsewhere in the tour, but Lawhead has discussed a little more theology in books 3 and 4 over the first two books. 
I could see the seeds he planted and was excited about the firstfruits revealed in The Spirit Well. But in The Shadow Lamp, he takes the mythology he’s created for the story regarding time and the idea of the multiverse and places it against the nature of God, in my opinion. Basically, if the heroes don’t fix things, the timestream will collapse on itself and destroy everything. 
I don’t have a problem with a big cataclysm in a book – the bigger the stakes the better, usually. Like bacon. You can’t have too much bacon. But I digress.
The issue is when this can happen despite God. That’s what it sounds like could happen. Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe he’ll clarify things in book five. Until then, my opinion was that this particular point is a detraction to the whole.
So, the take-home point? The Shadow Lamp is not a bad book. It’s just not very memorable. It is by no means a deal-breaker in reading the Bright Empires series. My experience with Lawhead is that he can be a streaky writer. Some of his books have been my favorites. And some…not so much. Unfortunately The Shadow Lamp will stay in the shadows of my memory when all is said and done.
If you wonder what others are saying, Becky Miller has the list of all the participants. So I’ll see you on the other side of the ley lines. 

CSFF Tour – The Shadow Lamp, Day 2

In Which The Blogger Gets A Hand Cramp By Trying To Keep It All Straight

Hey, the CSFF Tour is continuing the focus on The Shadow Lamp, the fourth book in the five book Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead.

Lawhead is a prolific fantasy author with 24 books to his name. He’s written about the Crusades to Robin Hood, from Byzantium to a Celtic fantasy land, an Arthur series and kids books. Now he calls Bright Empires his most ambitious work yet.

It’s hard to bring together four different books into three short blog posts. But, that’s my task today.

Here’s a very quick run-down of the previous books.

The Skin Map – This kicks off the adventure by introducing us to Kit Livingstone, the main character who has inherited his family’s skill of ley travel, the journeying between dimensions of the multiverse. Except he’s not very skilled at it. He loses his girlfriend Mina in 16th century Prague, ends up betrayed and left to die in an Egyptian tomb, only to be rescued by said Mina, who is a quicker study than her boyfriend. It turns out a lot of people are looking for the Skin Map, a map made of the skin of Arthur Flinders-Petrie, a man skilled at ley travel who tattooed directions on his own skin using strange symbols as code. Guess he won’t lose that map…

The Bone House – Now there are more stories bouncing back and forth in time. We learn the origin of the villainous Lord Burleigh, who was the bad guy in the previous book. Arthur is looking for a way to save his wife. Kit and Mina try to dodge Burleigh, and Kit being Kit gets stranded in the Stone Age and ends up in a Bone House. Funny how that worked out…

The Spirit Well – Now Kit stumbles on a way out of the Stone Age and is reunited once again with Mina. A new traveler, Cassandra Clarke, an American paleontologist, has fallen through time and has been found by the Zetetic Society, a group dedicated to ley travel and watching out for good. If everyone could just find the blasted Skin Map, everything would be alright. Of course, there are different folks with their own agendas weaving through time. And one traveler might just have broken the universe…

Whew. There’s a lot to chew on there. Lawhead is a skilled writer and researcher. He travels widely and is very good with the historical detail, so the various locales are very intriguing. He writes in a slightly detached style giving the book a subtle whimsy and British feel. So far, very good. Like he says, the books are unique in the speculative fiction field.

If you want to see all of my posts on the Bright Empires series, here’s the link to all the tags. Fittingly, like the narration in the series the posts don’t necessarily come in order. You can also go to Stephen Lawhead’s Facebook page or author page. Finally, Becky Miller is our tour guide, and she gathers all the posts together here from all of the participants. I’ll have my review of The Shadow Lamp tomorrow.

Of course, if you can figure out time travel, you can read it right now.

CSFF Tour – The Shadow Lamp Day 1

In Which An Old Friend Comes Back To Visit, So To Speak

Welcome back to the CSFF Tour. The best in Christian speculative fiction comes through this great resource. And this month, I had a chance to read the book!

I am excited to participate because we’re featuring the latest in the Bright Empires series, The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead. This is the fourth book in the series, so we are quite familiar with the comings and goings of the various characters. Well, that might be generous.

The Bright Empires series deals with a peculiar feature – the ability to travel through the multiverse by an intriguing feature known as ley lines.

An Englishman named Kit Livingstone was living a rather uninspired life until his great-grandfather Cosimo introduced him to the family business of traveling to different dimensions.

After trips to 16th century Prague, a Stone Age hunter-gatherer camp, and an escape from an Egyptian tomb, Kit has gathered with some friends. His girlfriend Mina, the Italian priest Gianni, and the American paleotonlogist Cassandra are on the verge of a major discovery. If only they had their shadow lamps to guide them in the treacherous dangers of ley travel.

Because the journey to find the Skin Map, return to the Bone House, and discover the mystery of the Spirit Well has already claimed many lives. Oh, and it might be threatening the fabric of all creation.

For more information, you can go to Stephen Lawhead’s Facebook page or author page. Also, the fine folks below are joining in the discussion, so check them out as well.

Julie Bihn Red Bissell Thomas Clayton Booher Thomas Fletcher Booher Beckie Burnham Jeff Chapman Karri Compton Theresa Dunlap April Erwin Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Becky Jesse Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Carol Keen Rebekah Loper Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirriam Neal Writer Rani Nathan Reimer Chawna Schroeder Jojo Sutis Rachel Starr Thomson Robert Treskillard Steve Trower Rachel Wyant Phyllis Wheeler Deborah Wilson

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.