Whens and Wheres, According to Stephen Lawhead (CSFF Tour, Day 3)

A word of explanation is in order: you may have noticed that “Day 2” of this tour got skipped (for the first time ever, I’d like to point out). The sad fact is that my copy of the book arrived really, really late, and by the time it got here, it collided head-on with an unusually busy week. I could have tried to cram the book and write a bleary, half-formed review tainted by the fact that I’d stayed up all night to read it, but I didn’t think that would be fair to anybody.

Least of all to Stephen Lawhead, who has been one of my favourite writers since I was a young teenager.

With that in mind, I thought I’d wrap up the tour by writing about an aspect of Mr. Lawhead’s writing that has always made it outstanding. (I will review the book when I’ve had a chance to read it properly.) And that is his grasp of history.

The Bone House, like most of Stephen Lawhead’s books, is set in an otherwhen. Actually, it’s set in many otherwhens, and just as many otherwheres: 18th-century England, ancient Egypt, Egypt in the 20s and 30s, 17th-century Prague, Etruria before the dawn of the Roman Empire (ten points if you’ve even ever heard of Etruria), and, I’m assured by the cover, the Stone Age. Notably absent is the Celtic world, which he has fully explored in other books.

The remarkable thing is how fully he’s able to delve into every one of these settings, even if he only drops us there for the equivalent of a few minutes. Never do you get the feeling that you’re just seeing a temporary, airbrushed backdrop: every setting has texture, and depth, and detail. I recently read a review that praised his abilities as a writer on the “sentence level,” but it’s much more than that: good sentence-level writing can only partially cover up for a lack of substance in the details.

And it’s there that he excels. He always has, and he still does.

As the settings of the story change, the world kaleidoscopes around us in a finely wrought rush of landscapes, colors, weather, food, social strata, speech patterns, clothing, transportation, eating utensils, desert cooling systems, musical styles, and moods. And in all of it we get a glimpse of another story, a much larger one, across which Bright Empires is only playing: the story of humanity, and the world, and everything in it. The story we’re a part of every day, but to the details of which we only rarely pay attention.

Genre fiction can only benefit from this kind of attention to detail. May we all read and learn.







4 responses to “Whens and Wheres, According to Stephen Lawhead (CSFF Tour, Day 3)”

  1. Phyllis Wheeler Avatar

    Beautifully said!! You’re so good at verbalizing what I am feeling.

  2. Janeen Ippolito Avatar

    I agree. Lawhead has a superb grasp of history, and he’s really great at weaving bits of historical background into the background naturally. I’ve read some historical science fiction stuff where the history is just crammed awkwardly into the narrative. It was refreshing to read a story line with well-integrated historical data.

  3. […] ? Joan Nienhuis ? ? Chawna Schroeder ? Kathleen Smith ? ? Donna Swanson ? ? Rachel Starr Thomson ? Robert Treskillard ? ? Steve Trower ? ? Fred Warren ? ? […]

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