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The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead, a review

The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead, Book 3 of Bright Empires series
Published 2012 by Thomas Nelson, 377 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy for teens and up

Lawhead’s latest book is number three in a sprawling five-book series. To date, there have been two protagonists and one main villain. This book adds another protagonist, Cass, and detail on another villain, Douglas. All of them are seeking the mystery pointed to in the coded Skin Map: the Spirit Well, something like a Fountain of Youth.

You see, the earth is covered with lines of energy along its surface. When one walks at a certain speed at a certain time of day along a particular ley line, it may transport you to an alternate version of our universe, possibly in a very different era, where many things are the same, but some things may be different. It’s possible to consistently hop from say present day to a version of 1890s London and back again, for example, or on from there to many places and times. So a map would be very useful, wouldn’t it?

The main protagonist Kit, fleeing from the villain Burleigh, takes a hop along a ley line near Prague. He unexpectedly finds himself marooned in the Stone Age with hairy men who hardly speak. But their telepathic skills are far above his, and he learns to love living with them. Eventually Kit mysteriously stumbles on the way from there to the Spirit Well. But how can he leave the Stone Age to find his friends and report the discovery? His ley line is no longer active. And does he even want to leave? Here he has a clan who somehow don’t experience dissension, aggression, backbiting, or any of the other petty sins of humans. And they’ve adopted him.

Meanwhile, Cass, a 25-year-old archaeologist, is chasing a native American employee down an Arizona canyon when she finds herself whisked away to a desert landscape someplace else. The native American has gone there too; he shows her how to quickly walk the ley line to return to Arizona. Now she’s hooked: what are the possibilities here? From the canyon she tries to make another leap and finds herself somehow transported not to the desert she expected, but to Damascus where she finds other ley travelers. They are all growing old, and they desperately need a young person like her to continue their quest. Does she want to risk her life to help them find Kit and the Skin Map? Or does she want to return to her safe archeologist life?

Douglas Flinders-Petrie is the great-grandson of the man who had the Skin Map tatooed on himself, Arthur Flinders-Petrie. Nevertheless he is somehow reduced to thieving and conniving to find the pieces of the map. And he spends years perfecting a plan to return in time and deceive medieval intellectual Roger Bacon into helping him decode the map. Will Douglas succeed?

What do I think?

Lawhead, of course, is a master of characterization and detail. He travels to the locales he describes, providing a wonderful authetic feel. His bad guys are very very bad, and his young clueless protagonist, Kit, is very very clueless. I am really enjoying reading this tale.

This particular book, The Spirit Well, is basically the middle of an epic tale. Each of the three story arcs described above are included in this book, so there’s a bit of closure. But mostly this book points you on to the next books by picking up and weaving a number of story threads, including several more than the three I described above.

The faith element? Lawhead is a Christian, but he doesn’t make it obvious. Only in this third book is there a discussion among characters in one scene about the dark and light spiritual forces at work in the struggle over finding the map. Meanwhile, in this and previous books in the series there are odd apparent coincidences that rescue the characters and lead them toward the Spirit Well unawares. In short, this book should be very readable by non-Christians who might be given a bit of food for thought, and also by Christians.

Since Lawhead writes at the rate of one book per year, we’ll have to wait two years to find out how it all ends. But it will be worth the wait.

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

This is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog tour. Please check out what others are saying too:

Jim Armstrong
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Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Author Website – http://www.stephenlawhead.com/
Author Facebook page – #/StephenRLawhead