Monday, October 24, 2011
CSFF Blog Tour: The Bone House Day One
Stephen R. Lawhead's The Bone House is a strange book. It transports the reader to exotic locales in time and place: ancient and nineteenth-century Egypt, Etruscan Italy, medieval England, and somewhere in the stone age, just to name a few. And, Lawhead renders them all in beautiful detail. It poses questions about the philosophical implications of multiverses between which, in Lawhead's fiction, time flows at different rates. While all those attributes cast The Bone House in some very strange and wonderful shadows, they are not the principal reason for designating The Bone House a strange book. The Bone House is of a breed from which many readers cringe in terror. It's a middle book in a series. The action picks up where The Skin Map, the previous book in the series (see my reviews here, here, and here), left off and ends after an appropriate number of pages. New plot lines have been established and new characters introduced, but almost nothing has been resolved. It's the second ley in a series of jumps. The Bright Empires Series is much more a Lord of the Rings type experience than a Narnia experience. So is The Bone House worth reading? Most definitely, but you must read The Skin Map first and be prepared to feel annoyed when you finish the last pages and discover that The Spirit Well will not be available until September 2012.
The Bone House follows intersecting plots centered around six characters: Kit Livingstone, Wilhelmina Klug, Lady Haven Fayth, Arthur Flinders-Petrie, Douglas Flinders-Petrie, and Archelaeus Burleigh. As in the first novel, Arthur's skin map is the prize everyone is seeking as they jump from world to world, occasionally bumping into each other. For readers of The Skin Map, The Bone House answers a number of nagging questions. First, who is Archelaeus Burleigh and why is he such a scoundrel? The short answer is an unhappy childhood. Lawhead traces Burleigh's rise from a rejected bastard of Lord Ashmole to wily street urchin to personal secretary of Lord Gower to celebrated antiques dealer. Lawhead tells Burleigh's story dispassionately, leading one to feel some pity for the boy Burleigh, whose mother became an opium addict, and admire his determination and resourcefulness, but somewhere along the line, something goes wrong with Burleigh. He loses respect for his fellow human beings, who become little more than tools to achieve his ends. His interactions with various women suggest that Burleigh is incapable of love and intimacy.
At the end of The Skin Map, Wilhelmina appears out of nowhere to save Kit and Giles from certain death in an Egyptian tomb. So when did Wilhelmina go from coffee house owner to master ley leaper? A healthy portion of the chapters on Wilhelmina tell that story. Of all the characters, Wilhelmina most comes into her own in this book. She takes over from Cosimo and Sir Henry Fayth as the driving force in the search for the map. She devises the plans and organizes the participants. One comes to the conclusion that she was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. At one point she tells Kit that the first jump from London to Bohemia, which seemed a disaster at the time, is the best thing that ever happened to her. When she thinks about returning to London to wrap up her affairs, she admits that "[t]he plain truth was she missed nothing about London or her mundane, drudging life there" (p. 168).
Douglas Flinders-Petrie is Arthur's great-grandson and several chapters cover his trip to medieval England in his quest to unlock the secrets of the skin map. But wait, readers of The Skin Map say. Didn't Xian-Li, Arthur's wife, die from Nile Fever before the couple had any children? And who removed the skin map from Arthur's body and hid it all over the multiverse? I won't spoil it, but both questions are answered in The Bone House.
Kit continues to muddle through while always managing to land on his feet, to make the right choice at the end of a string of disastrous ones. Don't think, I found myself saying time and time again, just do exactly what Wilhelmina tells you. He's one of those characters you want to grab by the collar and shake some sense into them. For example, when he stumbles into the stone age, Kit tries to escape from a settlement of cavemen in the middle of the night, not considering what might be lurking in the wilderness after nightfall. A bear comes about as close as possible to eating him.
And finally, what of Lady Haven Fayth, who appeared to turn traitor at the conclusion of The Skin Map. Lawhead devotes several chapters to her story and attempts rouse some sympathy for her as we learn about her previous meetings with Burleigh and her life with Burleigh after escaping the tomb. She abandoned her friends when certain death seemed imminent, and in her view, she made an expedient decision, better to be alive and have a fighting chance than dead. How many of us would have done what she did? Lawhead suggests that Haven does not trust or like Burleigh and she does warn Kit and Giles when Burleigh enters the coffee house and hands Henry's journal over to Kit. However, Wilhelmina doesn't trust Haven, and I'm inclined to follow Wilhelmina's instincts.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Bone House from the publisher.
Stephen R. Lawhead's website: http://www.stephenlawhead.com/.
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