Stephen Lawhead has never been a conventional Christian author, or even a conventional fantasy author. He writes by his own rules. Sometimes I like what he does, sometimes not so much. But all in all I was pleased with his novel The Skin Map, and look forward to the continuation of the series.
The main character is a generally unremarkable young man, Kit Livingston, who lives in contemporary London. One day he gets lost and wanders into an alley, where he meets a man who claims to be his great-grandfather, Cosimo Livingston. Cosimo claims that there are invisible paths and portals (“ley lines”) throughout the world, by which knowledgeable travelers may travel through time, space, and dimension.
Kit tries to explain to his girlfriend Wilhelmina why he missed their date. To prove his story to her, he takes her back to that alley and successfully makes a jump to the historical past—17th Century London. But he gets separated from Wilhelmina, who finds herself (we learn later) in Bohemia at about the same time. (One of the pleasures of this book is the Wilhelmina subplot, in which an unhappy 21st Century feminist finds personal fulfillment as a businesswoman in 17th Century Prague.)
Kit finds Cosimo, who agrees it’s important to try to locate Wilhelmina and send her home. But to do that they need a map. There is only one map of the ley lines, the “Skin Map,” a piece of parchment made from the tattooed skin of the first explorer to chart the space-and-time-byways. (He had the map made on his own torso so that he could never lose it.) That map has been cut into several pieces, and the single piece Cosimo and his friend Sir Henry Fayth possessed has been stolen. Before long they learn they have more serious problems than the disappearance of Wilhelmina. A very dangerous and resourceful enemy is doing his best to assemble the Skin Map for his own megalomaniac purposes, and he will stint at no crime to get what he wants.
I found The Skin Map a very engaging fantasy entertainment, suitable for teens and older. Good values are taught, and Christianity is presented in a serious, positive light. I think Stephen Lawhead was wise to move away from medieval fantasy, at least for a while. He seems to have grown uncomfortable with the kind of sword-and-armor violence that such stories demand, and this idiosyncratic adventure gives him scope for other kinds of action. Recommended.
Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, most recently an e-book, Troll Valley.