Tag Archives: fantasy book

Lawhead talks about his research

Stephen Lawhead, whose latest book The Bone House we are examining at the CSFF Blog Tour this week, has some research ideas for writers that you might find interesting. From an interview on his website:

Q: So you’ve been to Egypt, and Prague and Oxford, and all those places?
A: All of those places, to be sure — and others that are yet to appear as well. Oxford is where I live, so that’s a location that I’m becoming increasingly familiar with on many levels.

Sometimes – and this has happened with other books, it’s unavoidable – I can’t travel to the place I need to write about. That may be for political reasons, such as the country being closed to Westerners, or it may simply not be worth travelling to some far-flung place if it only makes a fleeting appearance in the story. It may also be that, now in the 21st-century, it is almost pointless to go to a place and be able to get much inspiration for how it was hundreds of years ago. For example, if I wanted to know what Manhattan Island was like in the 1200s, a week in New York City, as much as I might enjoy it, really isn’t going to be much help.

So, in the past, I have used experiences gained in one place to stand in as another. For example, years ago I visited Haiti – still very primitive in the hinterland – to inform descriptions of India. In The Iron Lance I let a visit to Kairouin Tunisia, stand in for medieval Baghdad, as the ancient walled city was closer visually and historically than the bustling modern metropolis in Iraq would have been.

Pretty neat, huh? Envision Lawhead visiting all kinds of out-of-the-way spots on the globe for his books. No wonder it takes him a year to write a book!

In The Bone House, he describes a trip down the Nile in a small boat. Not surprisingly, he’s done it himself:

And the Nile. Of course, now the Nile has been dammed at Aswan and that has affected the countryside dramatically throughout Egypt, so you have to imagine what it was like when the Pharaohs ran the place. But I made an effort, by spending a week in small wooden boat – a dahabiya – sailing from Aswan to Luxor, berthing on the riverbank each night, and observing along the way the villages and people I could see, and even visiting some of those villages.

Once the boat was tied up, the captain – an elegant man who wore a traditional gallabiyah with a light purple turban – would stroll ashore with a plastic bag of something smokeable in his hand. He’d make a little fire, walking around it as he fed in bits of sticks and wood he found on the riverbank. When he got his campfire going, one of his crewmen brought him his hubble-bubble pipe, and he sat there cross-legged smoking sheesha while his crew trimmed the sails, and settled the boat for the night.

Priceless.

Source: http://www.stephenlawhead.com/interview-on-research.html

For a more general interview: http://www.stephenlawhead.com/faq.html

To read what others are saying, check out these other bloggers on the CSFF blog tour:

More from Lawhead about the Bright Empires series

The Bright Empires series is staggering in its scope. Lawhead gives us an idea in this video:

Check out what other CSFF Blog Tour bloggers are saying about Lawhead’s new book, The Bone House:

Noah Arsenault
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
Jeff Chapman
Carol Bruce Collett
Karri Compton
D. G. D. Davidson
Theresa Dunlap
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Marzabeth
Katie McCurdy
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Rachel Wyant

The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead, a review

The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead
Book 2 of the Bright Empires 5-book series
Published 2011 by Thomas Nelson, 416 pages
Genre: Fantasy with Christian worldview, suitable for teens and adults

The Bone House continues story threads from the previous book, The Skin Map, which opened the series. In fact, if you haven’t read The Skin Map, don’t read this book. You’ll just get very confused. It’s clear the five-part Bright Empires series must be one giant tale, rather than five smaller ones. And what a tale it is.

At the end of The Skin Map, our hapless hero Kit Livingstone has been mysteriously rescued from the brink of death. The rescuer is none other than Kit’s formerly clueless girlfriend Mina, mysteriously appearing and whisking him away. It’s still sad, though. The ruthless bad guy, Lord Burleigh, did succeed in murdering Kit’s mentor, Kit’s great-grandfather Cosimo.

Cosimo had handed Kit a task, finishing Cosimo’s work of finding and decoding the Skin Map, while eluding Burleigh. But who will tell Kit how to pick up this task? Kit, a newbie, has much to learn. (The Skin Map is a grisly artifact, parchment made of the torso skin of Arthur Flinders-Petrie, a pioneer in ley travel who recorded his findings in tattoos on his own torso. The map has been divided into five pieces and hidden.)

It turns out Kit’s former girlfriend Mina, on her own, is becoming an expert in ley travel and can teach Kit some things. Ley lines are lines of geological force along the surface of the earth which in this series can catapult a person into another dimension. These other dimensions are alternate universes, ones spawned whenever any major decision is made on the home world (ours). All the possible results of those decisions create alternate universes based on differing assumptions. The result is an infinity of universes, all pretty similar, it seems, and connected by these ley-line energy pathways. It’s possible to move from one universe to another rather consistently, with some practice.

In The Bone House we find out plenty about the background of bad guy Burleigh, but not everything–we still don’t know what’s motivating his ruthlessness. And we meet another main character, Douglas Flinders-Petrie, the amoral grandson of the man who gave the world the Skin Map. All these characters are hopping through hot spots in various worlds, chasing each other, trying to get the Skin Map and something more. What? Kit still doesn’t know. Something motivates Burleigh to murder and attempt murder, again and again. What is it? Does the mystery have something to do with the stars?

What do I think?

This book is another 1/5 of a massive construction which is becoming clearer. Details of ley travel are explained in this book, and key characters discuss their faith in a benevolent God.

This faith in God in a book about multiverses is critical for me, a Christian. The multiverse idea was coined by atheists trying to explain how man could have evolved from nothing, with such low probabilities at key points of the evolutionary theory. If you multiply our universe by infinity, surely in one of those universes the probability will be high enough that evolution could indeed have happened. So some people, such as physicist Stephen Hawking, actually believe the multiverse theory is true and use it to support their atheism.

Lawhead, on the other hand, uses the multiverse idea as the basis for a massive adventure tale romping across worlds. The yarn is beginning to remind me a bit of Star Wars, with an young clueless (at the beginning) hero suddenly bereft of his mentor, an unbelievably dastardly villain (whose past is not fully revealed yet), and a very capable heroine, along with other characters. There’s an appropriate dose of mystery at the core. I’ll be very interested to read the next installment.

Read my reviews of all five books in the series: one, two, three, four, five.

This post is part of the Christian Science-Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) blog tour. Please visit blogs of other participants to see what they have to say about this book too:

Noah Arsenault
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
Jeff Chapman
Carol Bruce Collett
Karri Compton
D. G. D. Davidson
Theresa Dunlap
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Marzabeth
Katie McCurdy
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Rachel Wyant

Author’s website: http://www.stephenlawhead.com/

The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead, a review

skinmapThe Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead
Published 2010 by Thomas Nelson, 398 pages
Genre: Fantasy, suitable for adults and teens

Stephen Lawhead starts off his new Bright Empires series with this book, The Skin Map. The title refers to a grisly artifact: a parchment made from the skin of a man. This man was an experienced time/space traveler across alternate universes who had his torso tatooed with markings that served as a map in case he would get lost. (I was put off by the grisly part, but decided to forge ahead anyway, and I am very glad I did. There was nothing gory about this book.)

An alternate universe, by the way, is spawned by decisions made differently at a key point in history. For example, two of the characters go back to 1600s London and purposefully wake someone up so as to prevent the Great Fire of London. So from that point on, history is different in that universe.

The alternate universes idea is a favorite of physicist Stephen Hawkings, and it has made its way into literature before, most notably in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and following books. Pullman argues that God is either dead or irrelevant, so I, a Christian, found reading those books the opposite of edifying. Lawhead, on the other hand, is a Christian, though his books these days are subtle about their underlying worldview. I did enjoy reading this book.

Many fantasy books start with the protagonist living a humdrum existence. Then the protagonist finds himself swept into an alternate fantasy world somehow. In The Skin Map, the main characters find themselves swept not into a fantasy universe, but into medieval Europe in the early 1600s.

Kit Livingstone is a young contemporary Londoner leading a boring life, trying to please a boring girlfriend, when he suddenly meets his great-grandfather in an alley. His great-grandfather, a stranger who is a vigorous old man, invites Kit for a bite to eat and leads him to the other end of the alley–which opens into a medieval fishing village elsewhere in England.

Kit is shocked by the strangeness of the experience and runs back to his humdrum circumstances. He tries to tell his girlfriend about it. She doesn’t believe him, so he brings her to the alley, which runs along a “ley line” or joint line between alternate universes. The ley line returns him to his grandfather’s fishing village, but the girlfriend, Wilhelmina, vanishes into somewhere else. So now Kit and and his great-grandfather have to rescue her–she could be in deep trouble somewhere. But where? And when?

Kit also finds himself enmeshed in his great-grandfather’s struggle against the bad guy, Lord Burleigh, who is crossing time, space, and alternate universes looking for the Skin Map. The great-grandfather has part of the map squirreled away in Oxford, or thinks he does. So Burleigh’s men, armed with a huge saber-toothed cat from the Pleistocene, attack him whenever he uses ley travel.

Meanwhile Wilhelmina finds herself dumped into Prague in the early 1600s. A baker, she is picked up on the roadside by a German baker. Together they start a bakery business. Soon Wilhelmina is actually doing well. She even runs into Lord Burleigh and gets by unscathed.

But things are not going so well for Kit and his great-grandfather in modern Egypt. Together with some allies, they seem to face certain defeat and death at the hands of the evil Burleigh. I will stop here–read the book to find out more!

What do I think?

Lawhead does a great job with his characters. I especially like how Wilhelmina transforms from a catatonic city dweller to an energetic and enterprising businesswoman. Kit grows too, of course. It’s funny when he, a thoroughly modern guy, tries to make friends with a wagon driver from medieval England, who is in a lower social class and gets very uncomfortable.

The story is told through the eyes of four different characters: Kit; Wilhelmina; Arthur, the man with the skin map; and Lord Burleigh. Only a bit is told of Arthur and Lord Burleigh. The sole chapter from Lord Burleigh’s point of view informs us that he is a shady antiquities dealer from the present era, leaving much untold about his motives and designs. But in later chapters it becomes clear that the atheist Burleigh is after information on the mysterious Well of Souls, which may have something to do with reviving the dead. I am wondering now whether there will be an Indiana Jones-like collision of stupid atheists and the raw power of God at the crux of the series, which will run to five books.

Because The Skin Map is part of a larger story, it leaves many issues unresolved. So finishing it is not entirely satisfying. But I am expecting more great characters, plot thickening, and resolution in the next book, and I hope it’s not too long coming out! Lawhead does a great job of spinning a yarn. I recommend this book for teens and adults.

Read my reviews of all five books in the series: one, two, three, four, five.

This review is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog tour. Take a minute to check out what other bloggers are saying about this book:

Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

Author’s website: http://www.stephenlawhead.com/