The CSFF Blog Tour this month is on The Spirit Well by Stephen R. Lawhead (Facebook). I've been fascinated by time travel ever since I saw Back to the Future 2, so I was quite interested to read this book.
Our intrepid tour guide, Rebecca Luella Miller, suggested we should read the first two books in the series to get a handle on the third one. I checked my local library listings and they showed both books were there. So I stopped off there, only to find the first book was missing! The second had a summary though, so I decided to dive in there, for better or for worse.
In fairness, Inspired Reads recently promoted a Kindle sale on The Bone House, book 2 in the Bright Empires series, so I'd wager the publisher thinks that book is enough to draw a reader into the series.
Book: The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead
Ridiculously simplified summary: 2nd in a series. Several explorers, good and bad, manipulate "ley lines" of energy to travel through space and time. All seek the Skin Map, which outlines these leys, and could even guide a traveler to the Fountain of Youth...
Content: Aside from the characters seeking a map made out of a man's skin (which is gross enough) and a rather violent fight at the end, I don't recall anything gruesome here. The titular bone house is, if I recall correctly, made out of only animal bones. There is a lot of vomiting (part of the effects of ley travel) and I was surprised not only that a character soiled himself at one point, but the amount of time (read: any) devoted to the character dealing with this. I found the book rather light on the Christian themes; they were only subtly present, in my opinion.
The idea of other worlds and potentially parallel versions of ourselves is a bizarre one that can be hard to square with Christianity, just like time travel. I have a feeling I'll have more to say about that with the next book.
Compelling: 7 out of 10. At the beginning I was immediately drawn in for the journey, not knowing where the characters are going or what the point of the adventures is. Since I came in on Book 2, the concept of ley travel was fascinating and the style fun to read, so at first I didn't even care that I couldn't follow why things were happening. It was about halfway through that I started to wonder if there really was a plan here. Obviously there is, but I felt like the journey to get to an unresolved destination was overly complicated, even for a book with numerous realities.
Lawhead has that British voice that I as an American writer can only envy. He can get away with quite a bit of head-hopping by being an omniscient narrator. The charm of that started to wear off for me as the book progressed, until I got to where I was noticing just how distanced we are from the characters themselves. (And I'm a natural observer, not a feeler, so I really don't mind observing, but this was notably distant.)
I found the whole ending of Kit's arc dull. Near the ending is one of those scenes where he has an epiphany/transforming experience, but I didn't feel anchored enough to him and didn't feel like I was feeling what he was. Instead of being riveted, I felt like skimming.
Characters: 7 out of 10. This is rather tricky for me in that I really loved a couple characters (Wilhelmina and Etzel) and liked a couple others (Haven and Turms). But most of the others I found flat. As I mentioned above, Lawhead really doesn't get into any one character's head much, and just glancing through I counted at least four or five point-of-view characters in the first 10 chapters. I'd wager there are more actually, given that mid-chapter, or even mid-page, the point-of-view character shifts. Readers often don't mind these shifts, granted, but they tend to drive writers and editors up the wall.
Compounding the problem is that Lawhead, either referencing Book 1 (which I didn't read) or else trying to be funny, describes Wilhelmina as Kit's "unpleasant girlfriend." So when I found Wilhelmina to be fascinating and likable, that made me distrust/dislike the narrator.
That said, Lawhead the author proves himself by writing some of the more interesting female characters I've seen in Christian fiction.
Writing/editing: 8 out of 10. I explained the point-of-view/narrator issues above. Otherwise I felt like the editing got a bit sloppier at the end, but I only recall one typo.
Plausibility/believability: 4 out of 5. Ley travel felt real, and real life doesn't always tie up neat and pretty, so the disjointedness of the storyline didn't seem unrealistic. My main quibble on this front is that I can't believe cavemen were telepathic. Yes, I can believe these characters travel through space and time through lines of energy, but telepathic cavemen? That is where I draw the line. (Don't judge me. We all have those arbitrary lines of what we find plausible.)
Positive: 4 out of 5. I didn't feel worse after reading this book. While the world isn't all happy, I didn't find anything overly depressing.
Gut reaction: 4 out of 5. I found The Bone House fairly enjoyable, though it felt a bit muddled. (Reading Book 1 may or may not have helped that.) I thought the ending was a bit weak, so I'm not certain I would have read Book 3 if I hadn't had a review copy staring me in the face. On the other hand, I don't at all regret I had said review copy waiting for me.
Bonus points: 5 out of 5.
Recommended for: Fans of "clean" time-travel fiction, Christian and not, who don't need to get close into each character's head.
Total Rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars
Here are the other blog tour participants:
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Rachel Starr Thomson
*I checked out this book free from my local library.