I haven’t finished it. I don’t think I will. Today marks a dark day in my life. The day I give Lawhead a poor review.
Quick overview about The Skin Map:
Cover shows swirly symbols, archaic drawings, some guy’s obscured face, and some other guy running toward pyramids superimposed on the backdrop of London.
Back cover says something about a fast-paced treasure hunt across an Omniverse through ley line travel. Piqued my interest, and I enjoy Lawhead. (In fact,Byzantium was the second full-length novel I ever read, back in sixth grade. Crichton’s Lost World was the first)
The image I had going into this was a quest, perhaps epic in design, where a group of people from several time periods overcome obstacles and the environment to ultimately start connecting a map made of an intrepid explorer’s tattooed skin. Awesome premise.
I also knew, after reading Lawhead, that anything I read of his requires about half the book to truly get involved. After reading–and loving–his Robin Hood trilogy, Byzantium, and a few others, I knew what I was getting myself into. His need to casually create atmosphere is understandable.
The story itself is supposed to revolve around Kit Livingstone and his girlfriend, Wilhelmina. She goes through some ley line, he follows a second behind, and they end up worlds, and time periods, apart. Kit finds long-winded 1600’s relatives, Mina finds a bakery.
The book is fractured. The characters talk with glib redundancy, “I’m sure–no, heartily certain–my intrusion was accidental to the core of my every fiber,” are very simple yet trying to act grandiose and intelligent, and are doing whatever they want throughout. There is a filament of a plot. Skin Map=Good. Yet, after reading 3/4 of the book, there had only been one mention of it, and it, not surprisingly, was a fake and a false alarm.
Lawhead has a historian’s focus at his core. He much prefers environmental accuracy in detail to flow, character development, or plot. If this story spun around one person doing his own thing and slowly making his way to the ultimate conclusion, I’d be all for it. The truth of this book is I don’t believe Lawhead has any vested interest in his characters, the plot, or thematic elements whatsoever.
Yet every aspect of this book is weak–save for the setting. Throughout, Lawhead seems much more interested in looking accurate than being entertaining, or even interesting. Mina’s subplot is the most entertaining, and all it shows her doing, time and again, is improving on a coffee shop: social climbing, finding coffee-beans, making pastries, becoming important.
Halfway through the book, the characters start cementing together, but unlike his previous works, this story focuses on nearly ten people, the least of importance being Kit, the MC, and Mina, his quasi-girlfriend. Damage done, in my opinion.
You find no epic National Treasure-esque thrill ride. You find no daring escapes, no Indiana Jones wormhole-diving. You don’t even hear about the archaic writing/symbols until 3/4 of the way through the book. What ultimately made me put it down was my disgust that, finally, Lawhead decided he wanted to return to everything this silly thing was supposed to be in the first place. If he had continued letting everyone wander around in the rain, grinding coffee beans and fighting “burly men”–obscure “bad guys” that are nothing more than thugs–I would have probably read it to the end simply to see if Kit and Mina find each other. No. He had to try at a semblance of a plot.
The ideas behind this are great. If I hadn’t read Stephenson’s Anatham, the concepts would be a jumbled haze of whatever in my head. If I hadn’t read de Lint, the idea of walking through wormholes (ley lines) to alternative realities would be a jumbled haze of whatever in my head. In short, other writers have done everything this book was trying to do much more efficiently. And the dialogue grated so powerfully on my head that I actually growled at one point.
The book was sophomoric, without interest or passion or confidence. It was a historian’s love for history alone that pushed him to write this book, and it certainly didn’t deserve anything of the cover or the reviews.
I give it a 0 of 5. Yes, Goose egg. This book has absolutely no intrinsic value.