CSFF Tour Day 3 – The Fatal Tree

In Which We Tie It All Together With A Pretty Little Bow, With Questions…

imageOkay fellow travelers – we have reached the End of Everything. Well, at least the end of the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead, with the fifth and final book The Fatal Tree.

On 12/15 I tried to give some semblance of a recap of the first four books, which is really difficult considering the books deal with dimension hopping that has people doing things in book 5 before they happen in book 1.

On 12/16 I discussed a couple of the big ideas: the grandeur of Creation and the question of what if you could go back and change something.

But how does the rubber meet the road? How is The Fatal Tree? And how is the full five book series? Is it worth investing in now that we’ve reached the end?

Yes.

Out of all the books individually, I enjoyed The Skin Map (#1) and The Spirit Well (#3) the most. The Bone House (#2) was close behind, but it had a little slower pace than the first two. The Shadow Lamp (#4) was fine, but it felt too much like a set-up for the finish. Instead of being a strong stand-alone book, it seemed like it was needed to put all the pieces in place for the finale. Which makes sense, but it could’ve used a little more kick and less exposition to set the stage for The Fatal Tree.

Throughout all of the books, Lawhead’s mastery of research into historical settings and talent for putting the reader in these varied places from ancient Egypt to 1600’s Prague and Middle Ages Byzantium is stellar. Perhaps The Fatal Tree does this a little less as it races toward the grand conclusion.

And it is a grand conclusion, since the various characters like Kit, Mina, Cass, Gianni, and even the villainous Lord Burleigh have their roles to play in trying to prevent the End of Everything, where the Omniverse collapses. Weird things like temporal displacements (Napoleon’s troops in 1930’s Damascus) are just the beginning of the strains in the world.

The trials the main characters have to go through tend to leave their further characterization in the background. We don’t see much change from folks like Mina or Cass, though a very nice loose end gets tied up midway through the book. Otherwise most of the main cast has to do something.

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The exception is Lord Burleigh, and his predicament from the end of The Shadow Lamp carries over and is the heart of the book. The way that he is challenged, grows, yet still struggles is exemplary. If people wondered where the Christian content was in this Christian speculative fiction book, this is where the payoff is.

Enough with the technical stuff now. How was the book?

When I first finished, I honestly was a little disappointed. The fun characters from earlier in the series turned into chess pieces. We knew where people needed to end up, so it was inevitable when they got there, and not terribly suspenseful. Still, there were twists at the end that I didn’t see coming, and I wanted to finish after investing into four books at this point.

I wondered: did the series fizzle out? Was the Bright Empires not worth it?

But after I’ve pondered the book for a week, I realize how skillfully Lawhead maneuvered things together in the whole series. A seemingly pointless thread from The Shadow Lamp became the capstone to the series. There was redemption, but not full redemption for certain characters. Their journey would continue on outside of the book. Lawhead gave hints for how things would end up, without giving everyone the spelled out, neatly tied up ending that a beginning author would probably do.

Yes, the series suffered a little in The Shadow Lamp. The characters for the most part didn’t grow or change much in The Fatal Tree. Those that did made up for it.

If The Fatal Tree were a stand alone book, I would judge it differently. But since it is relying on the work done in the previous four books, the characterization is fine. As a series, Stephen Lawhead attempted a very ambitious work that twisted back on itself as characters jumped to different times and dimensions. Some books were stellar, and the others were all fine works. Together, I feel after reflection that it is an intriguing series that overall is a great read.

I would recommend the Bright Empires series to speculative fiction fans who like big ideas and thoughtful literature. It’s not a fluff piece by any means. Some thought is required. Bravo, Mr. Lawhead.

For more of our fellow blog tour travelers, see this post for all of the discussion on The Fatal Tree.

CSFF Tour Day 2 – The Fatal Tree

In Which The Blogger Gets Deadly Serious

Hey, you’re back. I didn’t lose you yesterday in trying to discuss the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead for the CSFF Tour. If you missed it, I gave an overview of the first four books. This month we’re featuring The Fatal Tree, the final book in the journey.51j3xiTUiTL._AA160_

Tomorrow I’ll give my review of the book and the series, but I wanted to talk about a couple of the Big Ideas from the series.

The series revolves around the idea of the Omniverse. Similar to the idea of a multiverse, the key hypothesis is that travel between other realities is possible via ley lines, ancient structures made on the Earth when ancients felt the power resident in the lines. The characters in the book can’t travel into future possibilities, but they can enter variations of past events.

This is wondrous, fertile ground for a speculative fiction author or reader. The idea of exploring what happens when different choices are made is very intriguing. One character prevents the Great London Fire of 1666 by simply waking the baker whose oven triggers the catastrophe. But in another version of London in 1666 the baker sleeps, and London burns.

Characters wrestle with this idea along with the idea of God and His role in it. It seems that Creation is more mysterious and mind-boggling that we can conceive, and the idea of the Omniverse and the interconnection through the ley lines is one way that the author contemplates the power of God in the universe/multiverse. The concepts introduced in the Bright Empires series have a lot of potential, and a story is a much more interesting way of wrestling with them than reading a textbook or paper on theoretical astrophysics. In my opinion, at least.

There’s another thread of redemption and trying to correct wrongs done in life. The way these threads are intertwined are very powerful. Can an evil person change? Can we undo damage that we’ve done with our actions in the past? Who wouldn’t like to change a bad choice from our past.

I remember a day when I was five. My dad was mowing lawns on a Sunday afternoon, first for an elderly lady, and then at our house. He came to take a break on the bed we had on our back deck, while I read comic books at the kitchen table.

I went outside and found him breathing funny. I got my mom right away, and before I knew it I was taken to a friend’s house while an ambulance came. I knew it was serious because my friend already had someone over, and he never was allowed to have two friends over, yet I stayed.

My dad died of a heart attack that day.

I wonder at times what would have happened if I had found my dad sooner. Would he have survived? But if he had, I can’t imagine that I would be with my wife or have my kids. Even though I missed having my dad, the chance to change that one event would drastically alter my life.

There’s power in the Bright Empires to do that, and the characters discover the consequence of such choices.

So know that The Fatal Tree and the Bright Empire series as a whole isn’t afraid of Big Ideas. There’s meat in there. Come back tomorrow to find out my final thoughts, and check out the other tours listed on Becky Miller’s blog.

CSFF Tour Day 1 – The Fatal Tree

In Which The End Of Everything Gets Delayed For A Much Needed Recap

The end of the year, and the end of a series.

The CSFF Tour is featuring The Fatal Tree, the 5th and final book in the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawheadlawhead books. It’s been a wild ride to get to the End of Everything, which is what The Fatal Tree is about.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about the first four books of the series.

The Skin Map – this starts off the tale with a good place: the beginning. And one of the great lines to start a series.

“Had he but known that before the day was over he would discover the hidden dimensions of the universe, Kit might have been better prepared. At least, he would have brought an umbrella.

Kit Livingstone is an unremarkable Brit with an unremarkable girlfriend, Mina. But when he meets his great-grandfather Cosimo, who happened to be dead, Kit is understandably taken back. Cosimo introduces Kit to ley travel, which allows one to hop dimensions. Unfortunately Kit loses Mina in 16th century Prague and Cosimo finds a permanent home in an Egyptian tomb, thanks to the treacherous Lord Burleigh.

The Bone House – Book two reunites Kit and Mina for a short time, but they must stay ahead of Lord Burleigh, who is trying to track down the Skin Map. Of course, we follow the adventures of Arthur Flinders-Petrie, the owner of the Skin Map, until it somehow is removed from his body at a later time. But that doesn’t happen until Kit is stranded in the Stone Age at the end of the book, growing a great hipster beard in the process.

The Spirit Well – Characters start joining in the quest for the Skin Map, as American paleontologist Cassandra Clarke stumbles upon a ley line in Sedona, Arizona. Arthur makes a fateful visit to the Spirit Well. Mina introduces Kit to Gianni, a well-educated monk. And the Skin Map is ready to take off on its own.

The Shadow Lamp – Finally the fourth book stirs the pot and leaves many people in difficult situations. Lady Haven and Giles the servant end up with Bulgar armies in the Middle Ages. Lord Burleigh lets his temper get the best of him. Douglas Flinders-Petrie, an ancestor of Arthur, also finds himself in a difficult situation. Kit, Mina, and Cass fight to understand and intervene as friends predict the End of Everything.

Confused?

You should be. Lawhead has conceived of this story 15 years prior to when he started writing the Bright Empires series. It is impossible to sum up four books without major spoilers. The solution is simple: order the books for Christmas!

I’ll talk more about the books on Tuesday and Wednesday. In the meantime, Becky Miller always collects the posts for the tour and notes them here. And you can see the various tour mates below to see what the Bright Empires holds.

Julie Bihn
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Karri Compton
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Jason Joyner
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Audrey Sauble
Jojo Sutis
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler