Review of “The Skin Map” (CSFF, Day 2)

Kit Livingstone, like so many heroes of so many stories, is living a vaguely dissatisfying life when we first meet him attempting to navigate the London transit system on his way to meet Wilhelmina Klug, described in book blurbs as Kit’s “unpleasant girlfriend.” But it doesn’t take long for the unexpected to charge in, starting when Kit meets the last person he would have expected to meet even if he’d been entertaining expectations of meeting anyone: his great-grandfather Cosimo, who disappeared two generations ago and has never been seen since.

Cosimo, who is shockingly spry for a man presumed dead for at least a decade or two, wants Kit’s help with something. What, we’re not entirely sure–but it involves navigating ley lines, intersections between times, worlds, and dimensions that only a select few people know exist.

One of those select people is a nasty piece of work called Lord Burleigh, whose men travel armed and keep a prehistoric cave lion on a leash. Burleigh, like Cosimo, is trying to find the pieces of a detailed map of the ley lines–the Skin Map, so called because it was once tattooed on the torso of the most far-ranging traveler of all.

Cosimo’s plans are quick to go awry, and Kit is pulled into an adventure that takes him — and us — across worlds. From London in the 1600s to a crypt in 19th-century Egypt, from a Chinese tattoo parlour to the courts of Bohemia, The Skin Map travels a rich landscape of history and imagination.

My thoughts about this book are as varied as its locales. The beginning of the story (when Kit meets an eccentric old man who teaches him to cross between dimensions) reminded me very much of The Paradise War, though the similarities don’t last long. I found the narrative style entertaining and almost old-fashioned, especially in its use of omniscient POV, so prevalent in older books but used less often now.

Lawhead’s attention to the small setting details — foods, dress, smells, textures, temperatures — is excellent as always. His ability to transport readers to another time and place is on display here, and it’s nice to see him ranging beyond the Celtic worlds to bring places like Egypt and China to life. Locations are drawn with an artist’s eye and a terrific sense of atmosphere (Black Mixen Tump was a highlight of the read for me).

As for the plot itself, it was less bizarre and perhaps less original than I had expected, although the ley lines themselves are fascinating (and I enjoyed the essay at the end that explains where Lawhead got the concept). At times I found the plot inconsistent, and what came as huge revelations to Kit– concepts of time and dimension travel — seemed pretty standard to me. For most of the book, I was more engaged in the side plots — the adventures of Wilhelmina, who has been accidentally sent to 17th-century Prague and becomes a ragingly successful businesswoman there, and of Arthur Flinders-Petrie, the Man Who Is Map — than in Kit’s story.

But just when I wasn’t sure how I felt about the book, a few twists at the end left me eager to read more.

The author says of this series that it is “the most challenging work I’ve ever undertaken,” alternately exhilarating and terrifying. I am not sure it lives up to the hype — yet. The story isn’t over, and while The Skin Map may not be everything it could have been as an opening, I have high hopes that The Bone House, Book 2, will make this story the adventure I’m waiting for.



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3 responses to “Review of “The Skin Map” (CSFF, Day 2)”

  1. […] total, so that’s a lot of backstory. You can read my reviews of the past installments here: The Skin Map, The Bone House, The Spirit Well, and The Shadow […]

  2. Sarah Sawyer Avatar

    The Skin Map felt to me like it mostly laid the groundwork for books to come, so while I enjoyed it for the most part, like you, I’m more looking forward to The Bone House. I’m quite interested to see how everything unfolds from this point. 🙂

  3. […] Gavin Patchett ? Sarah Sawyer ? Chawna Schroeder Kathleen Smith ? ? Donna Swanson ? ? Rachel Starr Thomson ? ? Robert Treskillard ? Steve Trower ? ? Fred Warren Dona […]

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