Julie again, for the CSFF Blog Tour!
The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead (Facebook).
Ridiculously simplified summary: 3rd 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. Meanwhile, a new face stumbles onto a ley line. Will she embark on the adventure thrust before her?
Content: Characters are still seeking a human-skin map. There's a rather graphic scene of a Egyptian medical procedure fairly early on, and more violence at the end.
Regarding Christianity, it comes into play a lot more, though parts of it seem a bit universalist to me. A major character (new to this book) is called upon to follow what is good and she believes God exists, so that's good, but thus far there was little reference to Christianity. One character, an ex-atheist, notes "so much religious dogma serves only to buttress power and befuddle the masses, it really deserves to be ridiculed. I mean, you hear the so-called revivalists banging on about heaven and hell and what not--do any of them really know about such things? They claim to know what God wants and what he demands...Bosh! ... Anyone who tells you he knows the mind of God is selling something. You can take that to the bank." This same basic group of characters notes a strange rule I've never heard of before, that demons/dark forces can't hear you converse if you're inside a church. (Which makes me wonder why everyone doesn't have all their meetings in churches.) Some good notes on prayer as well, and some other neat ideas I won't spoil here, though again, not necessarily specific as to Christianity proper.
This book touches on the idea of using time-travel to potentially change the past (something which seemed forbidden in The Bone House). It appears each person can perhaps only inhabit one dimension at a time...by that measure, maybe every person in existence is really only one person (not several different versions), which makes the eternal/salvation implications more plausible.
Compelling: 9 out of 10. Honestly, I don't feel like much progress has been made on the macro-end of things, given that none of the heroes knows how to read the piece of Skin Map they acquired, and the titular item only appears through a character telling his story, if I recall correctly. But this book somehow made me want to continue reading. A new character comes up to join our heroes and while I didn't find her to be anything special, I was fascinated by the group she stumbles upon.
My main problem is that I still don't care for some of the characters and have absolutely no interest in their storylines. There are numerous threads to the story, and there are some I just don't care about.
Characters: 6 out of 10. I liked some of the characters, but I didn't feel like the newcomer, Cass, was markedly different from any other characters. However, she served as a bit of a cypher for me once she makes the leap--a character I can observe and project my experiences onto.
I feel like the characters kind of start to bleed together, and as I mentioned before, I feel distanced from them. Some of the descriptions were rather lacking, too...I am still trying to figure out where Brendan is described as being older, until the word "fatherly" is used near the end (though it was implied by the context of his companions earlier). I'd imagined him as handsome and not terribly old from the initial description of "a tall, thin man in a three-piece suit of pale cream linen topped off with a natty white panama hat."
But that said, the book can work without all the characters being compelling.
Writing/editing: 6 out of 10. Readers probably won't notice, but I feel like editing got notably sloppy in the second half or so. The story turns into a fair sea of adverbs and unnecessarily-fancy dialogue tags. On page 243, in the span of 4 paragraphs, we have "he replied pleasantly," "he observed mildly," and "replied Cass lamely." Page 327 uses dialogue tags of "(character) allowed with a shrug," "concluded (character)," and "(character) agreed." Writing teachers and critiquers alike drill it into writers' heads that you should simply tag dialogue with "said" or an action tag. (As in, instead of "he allowed with a shrug," just say "he shrugged.")
In fairness, there are similar tag issues even at the start...it may feel more pronounced near the end because there are a lot of lengthy conversations with no action going on. As a writer, I know tagging dialogue is not always easy. It's just something I expect a publishing house's editor to pick up on. Unless, of course, Lawhead has reached that unfortunate point of popularity where publishers just want to get the work out as quickly as possible and no longer really edit.
Plausibility/believability: 5 out of 5. I'm from Arizona, and the portrayal of Sedona felt like Arizona all over. (Except I think Cass is silly if she wore a headscarf instead of a hat to shield herself from the sun.) I "saw" London (two time periods!), Damascus, and monasteries. Descriptions of places got rather more attention than people, I felt, but that actually meshes all right with my personality.
Positive: 5 out of 5. Some rather graphic evil at the end, but I'm still so fascinated by some of the ideas, I can't help but find it positive. (Also, if you can travel through time, maybe evil can be undone?)
Gut reaction: 5 out of 5. I'll admit this is mostly just me projecting my own ideas onto the book, but some people say that's an important part of the reading process.
When Cass meets the Zetetic Society they appear to be a bunch of loons, and I'm still not sure that they're completely sane, but I was so caught up in the idea of a club of seasoned travelers trying to do good. How amazing would that be? I'm projecting, but it makes me want to go off on an adventure, gamble it all, or at least use my powers for good. A series about these travelers--as opposed to the inadvertent wanderers grasping about for a Skin Map--could be a more fun world to visit than anything at Hogwarts.
Unlike when I finished The Bone House, I'd consider seeking out the next book in the series.
Bonus points: 5 out of 5.
Total Rating: 4.1 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
*In conjunction with the CSFF blog tour, I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.