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Bright Empires #1

The Skin Map

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It is the ultimate quest for the ultimate treasure. Chasing a map tattooed on human skin. Across an omniverse of intersecting realities. To unravel the future of the future.

Kit Livingstone's great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds. To those who know how to use them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily inhabit only a tiny part.

One explorer knew more than most. Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery. Ever on his guard and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code--a roadmap of symbols--that he tattooed onto his own body. This Skin Map has since been lost in time. Now the race is on to recover all the pieces and discover its secrets.

But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal. It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining.

The Bright Empires series--from acclaimed author Stephen R. Lawhead--is a unique blend of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery. The result is a page-turning, adventure like no other.

"Anything but ordinary . . . Dynamic settings are mixed with unpredictable adventures [and] parallel worlds." --"BookPage"

403 pages, Hardcover

First published August 31, 2010

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About the author

Stephen R. Lawhead

86 books2,426 followers
Stephen R. Lawhead is an internationally acclaimed author of mythic history and imaginative fiction. His works include Byzantium, Patrick, and the series The Pendragon Cycle, The Celtic Crusades, and The Song of Albion.

Also see his fanpage at Myspace:

Stephen was born in 1950, in Nebraska in the USA. Most of his early life was spent in America where he earned a university degree in Fine Arts and attended theological college for two years. His first professional writing was done at Campus Life magazine in Chicago, where he was an editor and staff writer. During his five years at Campus Life he wrote hundreds of articles and several non-fiction books.

After a brief foray into the music business—as president of his own record company—he began full-time freelance writing in 1981. He moved to England in order to research Celtic legend and history. His first novel, In the Hall of the Dragon King, became the first in a series of three books (The Dragon King Trilogy) and was followed by the two-volume Empyrion saga, Dream Thief and then the Pendragon Cycle, now in five volumes: Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur, Pendragon, and Grail. This was followed by the award-winning Song of Albion series which consists of The Paradise War, The Silver Hand, and The Endless Knot.

He has written nine children's books, many of them originally offered to his two sons, Drake and Ross. He is married to Alice Slaikeu Lawhead, also a writer, with whom he has collaborated on some books and articles. They make their home in Oxford, England.

Stephen's non-fiction, fiction and children's titles have been published in twenty-one foreign languages. All of his novels have remained continuously in print in the United States and Britain since they were first published. He has won numereous industry awards for his novels and children's books, and in 2003 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Nebraska.

also write under the name Steve Lawhead

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 617 reviews
Profile Image for Deborah O'Carroll.
462 reviews94 followers
September 6, 2017
I'm giving THE SKIN MAP 5 stars . . . with one reservation (which is what this review is for, naturally).

This is going to be just a little bit hard to review. I won this book in a giveaway from Robert Treskillard (a masterful author in his own right), and read it over the course of three days when I was sick, and it helped pass the time marvelously.

For most of the book, THE SKIN MAP was a resounding 5-stars. I enjoyed it so very very much and it was brilliant and unique and fascinating and awesome and funny and perfect.

Then the last 20 pages happened and it almost lost a star or dozen because, well, not to be specific or anything, let's just say certain authors don't mind killing characters and I may or may not have gotten really really sad and/or devastated at something that may or may not have happened. Ahem.

That being said, if I'd rated and reviewed THE SKIN MAP the instant I finished it, I probably would have been upset enough it would not have held the 5-star rating it so richly deserves. As it was, I went to bed after finishing it, with a hole in my chest and a determination to never read anything ever again. What can I say. I'm a drama-queen when it comes to books that play with my emotions.

But I let myself cool down, and now I have to say that THE SKIN MAP fully earned every one of those five stars. Again with that one reservation, which naturally only shows how well the book was written that it made me CARE that much. I didn't like how it was handled, though. But I will say no more because spoilers...

I must say, I was surprised by how much I outright loved THE SKIN MAP when I started it. (And still do, of course!) But from the very beginning it hooked me and drew me in and I found myself thoroughly enjoying myself.

So. Much. Enjoyment.

It also felt perfectly British at the beginning there (it went on to feel like other countries too, wherein lies part of its brilliance) and I just found myself loving this story to death.

The characters were so much fun!

I love our hero, Kit Livingstone, who had so much humor and normal Britishness.

And the timeless old fellow Cosimo who I love love love every second of.

And Arthur Flinders-Petrie himself, who can I just say was positively awesome; though I was a bit confused about his parts of the story and if they were all flashbacks...? But I suppose they were. The nature of time-jumping-ish stories can sometimes get confusing...

And Wilhelmina surprised me by working her way into my heart. I don't usually love the heroines of stories that much, but she had such unexpected spunk and determination. I found myself loving the parts with her and Engelbert and their Kaffeehaus the best of any parts of the book -- which, again, surprised me, because in a way there wasn't much going on with them compared with all the action and mystery in the other parts of the story. But the genius of Lawhead seems to be that he can make absolutely anything fascinating.

Following all these characters in all these different times/countries (modern-times, 1600s, and older; England, Prague, Egypt) was so much fun, so interesting, and masterfully handled. There was a particular "feel" to each section which was awesome. So well drawn!

The ley-line travel was fascinating and awesome and I can't wait to read more about it.

Plus, aren't those character names just delightful? I love almost everything about this book!

All in all, THE SKIN MAP is a fabulous read, full of mystery, awesome characters, and traveling through different times and localities, all richly painted in a masterful tapestry of ever-turning pages. I couldn't stop reading, and enjoyed the whole adventure immensely.

Also I just learned that my library has all the sequels in this Bright Empires series, which makes me indescribably happy. I can't wait to read the rest of these books and fill my life with more Lawhead brilliance.
Profile Image for Jerry.
4,630 reviews57 followers
July 16, 2022
It's a decent start to the series, but, I still hope the later volumes are an improvement on this one.
Profile Image for Werner.
Author 4 books571 followers
November 30, 2012
Note, Nov. 30, 2012 --I'm adding this note to correct an error in the review. The Bright Empires series is NOT to be a trilogy; Lawhead is projecting five volumes for it in all. My bad! :-)

In the 1920s, landscape photographer and amateur antiquarian Alfred Watkins became convinced that large numbers of pre-Roman sites in Great Britain (megaliths, mounds, hill forts, wells, causeways, sacred sites, etc.) were deliberately laid out along straight lines, for which he coined the term "ley lines," running across the landscape for long distances. His theory, elaborated in such writings as The Old Straight Track (1925) was that these were actual paths or trackways made by ancient Britons to facilitate travel at a time when the land was much more heavily forested than it is now. (For the most part, the archaeological community has dismissed the theory.) He did NOT ascribe any sort of paranormal significance to these lines; but beginning in 1969, occult enthusiasts began to seize on the concept and ascribe various sorts of mystical properties to ley lines, and (according to Lawhead's postscript to this novel) some researchers have claimed to find electromagnetic energy emanating from some ley lines in the UK and elsewhere. Building on this background, Lawhead's fictional premise is that these ley lines are the points along which the boundaries of other inter-dimensional alternate worlds, like touching soap bubbles, intersect with our world --and allow travel between the two. The Goodreads description above elaborates on this pretty accurately.

This is the first novel of a trilogy; and no spoilers here, but I'd advise having quick access to the second book, The Bone House, when you finish this one. :-) Lawhead wrote this, I believe, at a time when he was battling life-threatening cancer. Given that distraction, it's a testament to his prowess as a writer that the book is as good as it is. It has to be said, though, that the literary craftsmanship here is not up to his usual high standard. In places, the dialogue flow is off-kilter; there are some internal inconsistencies in plotting, the author occasionally clearly forgets a significant detail, and once a wooden staircase changes to stone a few pages later (and no, paranormal processes weren't involved! :-) ). I'd say that most of the characters aren't as well developed as they are in much of Lawhead's fiction, and Kit isn't as compelling a character as other Lawhead heroes I've encountered.

Nonetheless, the book has some strengths. The subject matter is right up my alley; the plotting is exciting and engaging, with good guys and gals to root for and a ruthless villain to root against; Lawhead makes good use of local color and detail to evoke historical settings, and his tendency to create strong female characters who are active rather than passive, and well able to look the male characters in the eye and meet them as equals, is as much in evidence as ever. As the Thomas Nelson label suggests, it's free from bad language and sexual content. Evanelical author Lawhead treats the faith of some of his characters sympathetically, and clearly recognizes the hand of Providence in the tale's events; but his spiritual content is low-key and naturally integrated with the storyline. And his plot developments managed to take me by surprise several times --sometimes to my pleasure and sometimes to my consternation! :-)

This is a relatively quick read, a page-turner that flows easily; and having come to the end, there are still a LOT of unanswered questions.
So, as soon as possible, it's going to be on to Book 2 of the trilogy!
Profile Image for Lynnda Ell.
Author 6 books28 followers
May 6, 2012
It’s much harder to write a negative review than a positive one. However, I’ve put off writing this one long enough. Thomas Nelson sent me a free copy of the unabridged audio edition of The Skin Map with the understanding that I would write an honest evaluation of it, so here it is…

Issue number one: the plot. The Skin Map begins with both heroes and villains searching for a hidden map of the locations for moving around in time and space. About halfway through the book, Stephen Lawhead decides the race to get the skin map is just a smoke screen for the real prize. He does not foreshadow this plot change in any way and only the villains know the true goal even at the end of the book. Finally, when the hero’s situation at the end is hopeless, one of the characters in a subplot rescues him quite melodramatically (think cavalry coming over the hill). The plot disappointed me.

Issue number two: the style. Mr. Lawhead wrote this book in the style of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and George Eliot. Since I like A Tale of Two Cities, Pride and Prejudice, and Adam Bede, I anticipated adding another author to this list. The style didn’t work. I kept waiting for the ebb and flow of the characters’ lives to draw me in and capture me with the events of their lives. That never occurred. Almost everything felt flat and uninteresting. (One of the subplots was better than the main plot.)

Issue number three: the characters. I’ve alluded to this in the other two issues. Even in a melodrama, the heroes are heroic. In The Skin Map, the heroes bumble into and out of one dire situation after another, never getting anything right and losing at every turn of the plot. The villains are appropriately villainous, but all of the characters appear to be vague and moved around rather like the pieces on a board game.

The technical aspects of the audio edition met my expectations. I listened to it on a 900-mile road trip, which was just about right for this 11-hour book. The reader’s pacing and style are good. If you buy this book, be prepared for English accent and pronunciation.
Profile Image for seak.
429 reviews474 followers
August 1, 2011
Kit is your average Londoner dealing with an average Londoner's complications, more specifically, the metro system. One problem leads to the next and on his way to his girlfriend's, he finds himself in a dark alley, Stane Way, but this dark alley's not as mysterious or treacherous as you may think, Kit ends up finding his great-grandfather for the first time...who's not looking as old as he probably should be.

Thus begins the adventure for the Skin Map, which contains directions through the ley lines that can transport a person from one location to another and even through different times.

There are two main storylines that we follow, at least at first. One takes us with Kit and his adventures with his great-grandfather and the other follows Kit's girlfriend Wilhelmina, who uses her 21st century know-how to influence her new situation as she finds herself by the side of the road in 17th century Bohemia.

While I enjoyed The Skin Map [US] [UK], it's not without it's faults. I guess this is where I should explain my rating system a bit because it really applies with this book. I'd say a perfectly executed and well-written book will get a 3 out of 5 stars. There's really nothing wrong with a 3 star book. More than that, it's got to do things that impress me, such as great characterization, a unique plot or magic system, etc.

The Skin Map is a great example of the perfect 3 star book. It's well done, I can't really say there's anything wrong with it. But then again, that's kind of the problem. The Skin Map is very formulaic. Everything's in it's spot, nice and tidy and there's not much in terms of surprises.

This aspect also hinders the sense of danger that's hinted at when the antagonists enter the picture. I can't say I was ever really worried when they were around even though I was told they were bad news.

The Skin Map is also not a gritty book, full of blood and violence. I like this every now and then - I've grown a bit wary of the trend where everyone is a terrible person who's only looking out for their own interests. This was a nice change.

Why Read The Skin Map?

Overall, I had a fun time reading The Skin Map. It's a light, straight-forward, romp through the 17th century and other parts of history. The sense of place is great, but don't expect many surprises. If you want well-crafted, this is it.

3 out of 5 Stars (Liked it)
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,800 followers
October 3, 2012
Okay 3.5. I'm to some extent a Lawhead fan. He's written some books I've liked greatly though he's capable (sometimes) of writing some very dry prose. It happens.

I saw this book, read the synopsis and noted it as one I wanted to read some years ago.

And then forgot it.

I saw it mentioned here, a few days ago, said "oh yeah, I remember wanting to read that". It was in audio on the library's web sight so I downloaded it. I must say it's not what I expected from the synopsis I read. It's much more...sedate.

Kit a young man in contemporary London is having trouble getting to his girlfriend's house. It seems everything that can go wrong is going wrong. He can't manage to work out his troubles with the subway and finally decides he'll just walk the 3 miles to her house.

Right. This is a novel and had he made it without more trouble we wouldn't have a story.

See on the way Kip meets his, great grand father who left home to get some sausages back in the 1800s and never came home again. From there things get strange.

The book is an interesting one. It does hit a few slow points and as it's told from at least 3 main points of view I suspect that most will get more involved in one character than the others (I did anyway). Still it's a good story and weaves a nice tail with pretty good characters. There are times it gets a bit predictable and times when you'll want to beat your head on the wall because a character fails to do something that is only common sense, but all in all, not bad and I go all the way to a rounded up 4 stars for the rating.

One more slight caveat. There's an ending scene that has (to me) a decided deus ex machina feel to it. Now, I assume what happens will be completely explained in vol.2 (we got a bit of a set up, but then the event is just sort of "sprung on" the reader). I plan to (probably) follow this one up as "mostly" I liked it a great deal. Try it for yourself, after all that, I can recommend it.

Profile Image for Mindy.
38 reviews3 followers
September 15, 2010
This book was a fantastic journey that was hard to put down. It combines science, history, mystery, and alternate realities. The first sentence of the first chapter draws you in:

"Had he but known that before the day was over he would discover the hidden dimensions of the universe, Kit might have been better prepared. At least he would have brought an umbrella."

The day that Kit meets his great-grandfather, his world is turned upside down. Or inside out. Or maybe sideways. Lawhead is able to weave a story that draws you in and takes you on a journey. This particular journey leads you in imagining the possibility of "ley lines" that allow you to travel from one reality to another - from one world to another. What would happen if there were streets that you could walk down and travel from your world into another world? Dropping you into a reality that is slightly different from your reality - or a reality that occurred in ancient history? And imagine that there was a map, a Skin Map, that had the directions to take you back home. But you had to find that map in the various realities - and before the thugs find it.

This book was wonderfully written. The scientific explanations were written to be easy to understand, and the descriptions of ancient history brought this alive. This left me wanting to read The Bone House, the next book in the series, but I'll have to wait until September 2011!

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Profile Image for Adam Collings.
Author 13 books62 followers
December 8, 2011
The Skin Map is not your average stand-alone novel. It is the first instalment of a vast story arc. The story begins simply, with an everyday twenty-first century Londoner, Kit Livingstone. Upon a mysterious meeting with his long-dead great-grandfather he is pulled into a world of mysteries, dangers and alternate realities.

The book covers a number of parallel stories about multiple characters. Neither of these stories is brought to conclusion in the Skin Map, they are all left hanging for the next instalment. This makes reading the book an experience more like watching a TV serial such as Babylon 5 or Lost. Some may be put off by this but I enjoy that sort of thing.

Stephen R. Lawhead has always been a masterful world builder, and this book gives him multiple opportunities to immerse readers in everything from renaissance Prague to ancient Egypt. This book is a culmination of everything Lawhead does best, combining fantasy and science-fiction with historical fiction.

I did find that with the constant universe-hopping, that I was sometimes disoriented. I wasn't always sure what time period a given segment was set in. Neither was I always sure which 'reality' a scene would take place in. This however didn't overly get in the way of the story.

If you're put off by non-chronological story-telling then this may not be the book for you, but I for one loved it and can't wait to read the next one.
Profile Image for Andrew.
2,142 reviews
August 29, 2019
This is a curious book in that I thought I had the majority of Stephen Lawheads books only to find a complete series I knew nothing about.

So as is usual with such a situation I went out and bought it. So here we are with the first in the series of 5 books and I must admit I enjoyed it. There is however a but.

Not a big but - but still a but!

You see the book is still with characters and events that feel familiar. Yes it could be I have read too many similar books and they are starting to "bleed into each other", it could be that Mr Lawhead is getting predictable or it may be that I can just predict these things having read too many similar books.

Anyway all those things aside the book is still good fun, the story carries on a pace and the idea of having several character narratives going on in parallel actually work (usually its something I do not enjoy finding just when something gets interesting they shift to a different POV).

So will I carry on with the series of course I will do - as all these predictable twists and turns could still be just as easily turned on their heads and confound me - thats all part of the fun.
Profile Image for Seth.
580 reviews
May 24, 2011
Kit Livingstone is a dissatisfied twentysomething in a hum-drum relationship and stuck in a dead-end job in a London cube farm. Until, that is, he mysteriously encounters his long-missing great-grandfather in a dark alley. The old man reveals to Kit the wondrous secrets of “ley lines“—invisible strings of unexplained energy that criss-cross the planet.

If one knows how to navigate them, these lines open up portals to other times and parallel universes. After accidentally losing his girlfriend in seventeenth century Prague, Kit is swept up in an inter-dimensional search for a lost map for navigating ley-travel, all while being pursued by the thuggish minions of a villain determined to find the map—and thus the secrets of the universe—first. At one point there are five sub-plots in play, ranging from ancient and modern Egypt and England to Macau in the Qing Dynasty. Planetary travel is hinted at for future books.

I have read almost everything Lawhead has written over the last twenty years, and almost always with pleasure, but this book was mildly entertaining at best and frustrating at worst. Little effort is made to explain what the ley lines actually are, even though they are the central phenomena that allow the story to progress. I had to read the author’s note at the end to actually grasp what they are (or theorized to be).

Gaping logical holes are ignored amidst the discussion of time travel and the implications of getting involved in past history. Perhaps they will be addressed in later volumes of this series, but the missing pieces seemed less like thoughtful plotting and more like basic non sequiturs. The realism of inter-dimensional travel doesn’t bother me; the lack of a coherent and reasoned explanation of it does.

If the book is implausible in plot, it is even weaker in character development. Most of the main players are one-dimensional (pun intended), and the one protagonist who does show some depth—the girlfriend—does so within a plot line that is too simplistic to seem natural.

Lawhead does leave enough plot threads unresolved to interest me in the next book (out in October, I believe), but I’m not chomping at the bit to get it in my hands the way I’ve done with some other novels.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review, with no obligation to review it positively.)
Profile Image for Lovely Day.
609 reviews82 followers
July 18, 2020

What a trip this was!!! So much adventure & intrigue & action!

Kit's great grandfather, whom he has never met, shows up one day and tells Kit a story of magical travel to other worlds and times. The catch is, his grandfather claims this to all be true and a part of Kit's destiny.

To appease this old man has gone crazy, he plays along only to discover his great grandfather is not only telling the truth, but also very skilled and knowledgeable in the art of lay-travel when the two take a trip together and Kit experiences this impossible journey first hand.

Things take a complicated turn, when Kit's girlfriend follows him and suddenly disappears. She must have unintentionally found a lay line and traveled to a different world or era. How will Kit and his great grandfather find Willamina when there are literally endless destinations she may have ended up?


So so good!!!! Can't wait to continue this series and discover other masterpieces by Stephen R. Lawhead!
Profile Image for Jeanette.
Author 30 books130 followers
June 6, 2017
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Stephen Lawhead's The Skin Map (the first book in the Bright Empires series.

Kit Livingstone is on his way to meet his girlfriend, Mina when a serious of unfortunate events sends him down a mysterious alley, Stane Way. Here he meets a sudden squall and a man claiming to be his great-grandfather Cosimo Livingstone and he finds himself far from London. Arriving at Mina's flat 8 hours late, he takes her to the lane to prove his wild story only to lose Mina in the transfer. Finding her again is not that simple as Cosimo explains the complexity of the ley lines and the omniverse. Meanwhile, the ruthless Lord Burleigh is searching for the Skin Map, a map to the different dimensional worlds which Arthur Flinders-Petrie had tatooed onto his own torso.

The Skin Map follows the adventures of Kit and his great-grandfather Cosimo with Sir Henry Fayth as well as those of Mina in Prague, Arthur Flinders-Petrie in China and Egypt, and the treacherous Lord Burleigh who is forcing ley-travellers to assist his quest. To add another layer of complexity - each transfer to an alternative world is at a different time as well as place - from 17th century London and Prague, to China, to both Middle Kingdom and early twentieth century Egypt. A bit like the Doctor and Riversong - people can met out of synch with each other - so timey-whimy stuff along with the travel to different places. The pace is very gentlemanly for the first three-quarters of the novel at which point things heat up considerably. What starts out as a fun romp becomes deadly serious with potentially more than personal stakes.

Lawhead uses an omniscient narrator and has some older stylistic features. What I loved about this book is the characters (Kit, Cosimo, Arthur, Mina, Burleigh - though Lady Fayth was a touch cliched), also the adventure, the lovingly detailed and real settings - to the point I felt I was in seventeenth century London - or Prague - or Macau - and the sense of fun and discovery. The reason why this is closer to a 4 than a 5 star is that the cliff-hanger ending - that feels more like finishing half-way through the book with all the threads left hanging.

Still, it was a delight to read and I do want to read the next book House of Bones to see where the story goes.
Profile Image for Anne Hamilton.
Author 35 books145 followers
January 31, 2015

A terrific story. I would have rated it higher but the time aspect was so confusing. It was difficult to be sure on occasion - especially in the scenes with Lord Burleigh, whether there had been a change of century or not.

Spoiler alert:

Cosimo Christopher Livingstone, naturally known as 'Kit', is riding the London Underground to visit his girlfriend when a line closure forces him off the direct route. A fair bit of frustration and wandering later, he winds up taking an obscure street called Stane Way. Just as a storm hits. And his great-grandfather, also called Cosimo, turns up to have a friendly chat and ask for a bit of help.

Kit's not sure he's hallucinated having a beer with his great-grandfather in some picturesque village - in Cornwall? Devon? Pembrokeshire? He arrives at his girlfriend's hours late and she, stolid German young woman that she is, is far from impressed. Kit decides to convince her his story is true and takes her to Stane Way.

Next thing he knows he's back with his great-grandfather and Mina has disappeared. Cosimo is perturbed: Stane Way is the meeting place of several ley lines and Mina could be - well, anywhere in the Omniverse.

To find Mina is going to be a challenge and Cosimo suggests enlisting the assistance of his friend, Sir Henry, who like him is a member of a secret society - all looking for the mysterious Skin Map.

The Skin Map was created by Arthur Flinders-Petrie, an intrepid explorer of the Omniverse who has mapped his discoveries on something he always keeps with him and can never lose: his own skin. He's had the map tattooed across his body. However in the process he's come to the attention of Lord Burleigh, a nemesis who will stop at nothing to get the map. Even killing.

Flinders-Petrie is saved by Xian-Li, the beautiful daughter of the Chinese inker who has tattooed the Skin Map over many years. Falling in love, he marries her and takes her into the Omniverse - into ancient Egypt. There she dies. Shocked, bereft, Flinders-Petrie sets off on a journey to restore her to life: across the ley lines to the Well of Souls.

Meantime, despite Kit's fears for her, Mina has landed on her feet in a big way. She winds up in sixteenth century Prague with a baker who adores her. And, in a triumph of timing, she opens the first Kaffeehaus in the country.

Kit meantime has wound up in more trouble than he can begin to comprehend. Believing Cosimo has the Skin Map, Lord Burleigh has sent his 'Burley Men' to round him up. At the neolithic man-made hill of Black Mixen Tump, Cosimo and Sir Henry open a portal into Egypt about a century past, but are followed by two Burley Men. Kit is so busy fighting off more of the Burley Men, he is too late to follow them.

Eventually, enlisting the aid of Giles the coachman and Haven, Sir Henry's niece, he opens the Tump and finds Cosimo and Sir Henry. They are locked in the tomb of Anen, a priest of ancient Egypt who, millennia previously, was a friend of Arthur Flinders-Petrie. And painted on the wall of the tomb is a figure of Anen, holding up the Skin Map like a banner in his hands.

From page 23: 'People get named all sorts of things... Whimsy, ignorance, sudden inspiration - all play a part. But if anyone guessed how monumentally important it was, the process would be taken a lot more seriously. Did you know - there are tribes in the jungles of Borneo who refuse to name an infant until it is four years old? See, the child must develop enough to demonstrate the attributes it will carry into adulthood. The child is then named for those attributes. It's a way of reinforcing desirable qualities and making sure they don't disappear from the tribe.'
Profile Image for Jenelle.
Author 15 books176 followers
April 15, 2020
When I heard Stephen Lawhead was writing a new book, I was thrilled. When I learned the title of the new book was The Skin Map, I was confused. It didn’t sound very ... well... Lawhead-y. However, as I began reading this beginning to a brand new series, I swiftly became engrossed in the story.

Filled with descriptions that beguile all five senses and all the beauty and charm of the language I have come to expect from Lawhead, this book is a fascinating blend of fantasy and sci-fi. In the world of The Skin Map, there is an Omni-verse, a universe filled with alternate realities that are easily accessible to those who know where to look via roads known as “ley lines.” These alternate realities are also located in different “time zones” as it were, and thus jumping from one reality to the next also inevitably includes a certain amount of time travel.

The book follows the stories of several different characters: Kit Livingstone a young man from modern-day London, who encounters his great grandfather and is shown how to ley travel; Wilhelmina, Kit’s girlfriend, who, when Kit tries to prove to her that ley travel is real, gets trapped in 17th century Prague; Cosimo (Kit’s great grandfather) and Sir Henry, ley line adventurers who wish to use the ley lines for the betterment of science and humanity; Lord Burleigh, the villain of the story, whose motivations seem to stem from greed; and Arthur Flinders-Petrie, the “Ernest Shackleton” of the ley line adventurers who mapped out the ley lines and had them tattooed on his body so they could never be stolen or lost.

Something I love about this book is the masterful way Lawhead subtly uses his characters to point to Christ. He never beats his audience about the head with his beliefs, despite publishing with a Christian publishing house. Instead, he allows his books to unfold the message of his faith - either through characters whose faith is an integral part of who they are (such as Etzel), or through characters who don’t know what they believe and the conversations they have with other characters about questions they have (such as Kit and Lady Faythe). As always, Lawhead is unique in that he is not a writer of Christian Fiction. Rather, he is a Christian Author who writes Fiction.

On the flip side of this rave review I do have a couple of negatives to mention. First, is that I have to wait until next September to read the second book in the series. Second, don’t read this book expecting to have any questions answered. I was about 10 pages from the end when I realized that the book was leading me to a cliff-hanger ending, and I was going to have to wait for the rest of the series to find out what happens. Since Lawhead is delving back into sci-fi with this series, this first book was mainly an introduction to the characters, the concept of ley travel, and a tantalizing glimpse at the story this series will become.

Overall, I would say I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good blend of sci-fi, fantasy, and history as well as the idea of time travel and being able to mess with historical events.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,388 reviews1,104 followers
April 4, 2016
This book was simply an alright read. It was not bad, but I can't say that I really enjoyed it either. The writing was a bit dry for a fair share of the book and several parts of the books seem a muddled at time. But the concept is an interesting one. Then again, I am a sucker for time-travel stories.

It starts off with Kit meeting his (great?) grandfather and finds himself in another place and time. At first skeptical, upon returning home he knows it to be real. But when he tries to prove it ti his girlfriend, Wilhelmina, things take an unexpected turn and she is separated from him.

With the help Cosimo (his grandfather) and friends, Kit must find her. But there is more to what they must do. A map is needed and enemies are closing in. Dun, dun DUN!

While interesting at first, I soon found myself pulled in too many directions and I had to stop and flip back a few times just to make sure I knew what was going on. And still I could not always make much sense it it. WE get several viewpoints, several places and lots of times throughout history! not to mention I felt lot a lot of repetition was happening with the main cast.

Honestly Wilhelmina's story in this was actually my favorite by far. And it wasn't one of the main events! But without her story I think I honestly might have DNFed this. In the end I am glad I did not because I did find a few other enjoyable spots but overall it just didn't excite me the way I had hoped.

Each chapter is titled and honestly I found them eye-roll worthy. To me, if it is not witty, or thought provoking or something, no titles necessary. A simple chapter number is perfectly fine. The titles sort of spoil the chapters at times even.

We do get to see much of the world! From London, to Vienna, to china and more! A mix of languages and great vivid portrayals of the time and environment adds character to this book.

So is this worth reading? Perhaps, if alternate realities and time travel interest you or fans of history, you might enjoy this. Be warned the pace does vary and if has a balanced mix of interesting parts verses dull moments. So patience is a good thing to likely have. However there are a couple decent gems to be found in this book.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair/honest review. All opinions and thoughts expressed are strictly my own.
Profile Image for Melanie.
495 reviews22 followers
August 26, 2016
I have become a increasingly tired, or perhaps suspicious of books intended for a series. I guess I feel I have been burnt enough times with either a promising series that ends flat, or like it was with the Skin Map- by Stephen Lawhead, where the author sort of assumes the readers will hang on for the long haul without truly endearing us to the characters, or giving us enough of the story to keep the reader wanting more.
I must say that Lawheads writing is quite good. (I especially love reading British writing, which he executes well) He develops the concept of ley lines and time travel well, sets the backgrounds up perfectly. The problem for me was, there were just too many questions that were never resolved in this book. Kit runs into his great grandfather who would like Kit to join him on the quest to find the skin map. And yes, it’s gross! The Skin map is made of human skin, and no, it isn’t on a still living body. (Though we never find out in this book how it went from tattoos on a living person to some sort of nasty parchment) The skin map has been divided and good and bad people are all looking for it. The thing is, I didn’t get a sense as to what was a stake should the good guys fail.
You see, before we get that background, or the chance to see the scope of this, Kit loses his cold girlfriend among the Ley lines and must set out to find her, in the millions of places she could have ended up. The problem is, I didn’t care about them as a couple, and the both seemed the better for this separation. I will probably read the second book The Bone House, which was released in Fall 2011, but only if it gets enough positive reviews, and only if it answers more questions than this first book did. I am rating this a 3 star book, which really does mean that it was okay. The writer is quite talented, I just expect the first book in a series to really stand out and set the character foundation a little better than this did. I received a review copy from the book sneeze program.
Profile Image for Brenten Gilbert.
420 reviews1 follower
December 23, 2011
my history with Stephen Lawhead isn’t the best… a long time ago, (when i was but a wee lad) i bought three Lawhead books from a book club… Taliesin, Merlin, and Arthur… i had heard that he was a good author and i guessed based on the titles, that i’d be interested in the books… unfortunately, i could never get into them and i doubt i made it past the first three chapters of the first book, despite trying several times… and, as it turns out, those books are part of a larger series, the Pendragon Cycle…

Be that as it may, i jumped at the chance to read a copy of The Skin Map without the foggiest idea of what lay ahead… i certainly didn’t expect a tale about time travel and multiple universes… and i honestly didn’t expect to be completely absorbed by the rich storytelling… the book weaves a handful of individual storylines that ultimately stretch across all dimensions to overlap in a wonderfully unique way…

The Skin Map is gripping, action-packed, and full of surprises… you never quite know what will happen or where the next chapter will take place… but observing the characters as the develop, adapt, and learn makes this a fascinating journey… i’m actually pretty happy that it’s just the first of a forthcoming series…

-from trudatmusic.com/raw
Profile Image for Ron.
Author 1 book135 followers
December 24, 2013
Stephen Lawhead certainly can tell a tale. The many and obvious errors in this manuscript could/should have been caught with just one more proofreading. Nevertheless, Lawhead engages the reader and keeps his attention through to the end. There is a fine tangle of plot and timelines, which only gets worse as the story progresses.

Unfortunately, the "end" is something of a cliffhanger. There is not resolution so much as a commitment by the protagonist to pursue to an end. Frustrating, in a good way.

A very good read.
Profile Image for R.E. Houser.
Author 4 books26 followers
May 30, 2019
First off, I did enjoy the book. The writing was good. There were a few things that bothered me though. First off, the author must love food. He went into great detail about everything that was eaten, and the characters usually ravaged the food like it was going out of style. Some times the descriptive meals went on so long that I almost stopped reading, just to get a break.

Another thing that bothered me was the female protagonist. While she wasn't the main character, very early in the book she is torn from her reality and time, left standing in the past sick and screaming until she had no voice left. This is an appropriate response, I felt. What got to me was that directly after, she jumps in a wagon with an friendly old man on his way to open a new bakery, and just gives up entirely on her past, throwing in with this stranger and all his dreams. Opening a bakery and applying ideas from her time to make it thrive.

While that story direction in itself was not bad, it made no sense to me what would motivate her to do that, not even thinking about her past. It is mentioned a few brief times later on, but that is all.
A third thing that makes this book hard to follow is that it is told from the perspective of many characters. This in itself is not a bad thing, but these individuals are in different times and realities and have story lines that don't line up with each other. It got confusing.

Okay, the bad out of the way. The writing style was entertaining, and the story itself was good. I would recommend the book to those interested in time travel, or multi-verse stories. I'm on the fence if I'm going to commit to book 2 in the series at this time though.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Yolanda Smith.
224 reviews25 followers
July 24, 2019
I would’ve given this book five stars if not for the cliffhanger at the end. Just felt I needed a little more stitching up rather than feeling I’d ended somewhere in the middle. But I will be reading book two as soon as it lands in my mailbox. The author is a fabulous storyteller and master weaver of plot.
Profile Image for Jeannie Mancini.
206 reviews21 followers
October 12, 2010
Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead
(4 Star Review for Amazon, Goodreads, Librarything.com)

Time Leaping Along the Ley Lines

Stephen Lawhead’s new book Skin Map, the first in an upcoming series called Bright Empires, is a bit of a deviation from his usual style of fiction. I think it’s important to up front, not compare it to his other works and normal literary style, in order to not get disappointed. This is a light, fun, sci-fi adventure story, not a lot of deep substance or description. Once in that frame of mind, readers will enjoy the concept of what Lawhead is trying to create. The book is also definitely an intro book, a sort of outline of the lead characters and their background history. You will learn who they are, what their part in the scheme will be, and where they are located in time and place along the ley line journeys. Do not expect a wrapped up story, this first installment really does leave you hanging, and literally is just the tip of the iceberg with the basic players and a core plot set-up that will evolve with more significance in the coming installments.

At first I was disappointed in the simple writing and at times unsophisticated dialog, and because some characters appeared to be locked into one place not moving. But as I got further into the book I realized what the author was attempting, and with that knew I had to be patient for him to invent a starting point that would obviously be followed up with more in-depth scenarios later in the future books.

The plot of the Skin Map revolves around Kit Livingstone who is one day out racing to the London train station to meet his girlfriend Mina. Along the way he is stopped by an old man who calls Kit by his real name, Cosimo. Stunned and stopping to a halt, he finds a ragged old man who claims to be his great grandfather, and is fed a ridiculous story of how a person can travel through time and space and into otherworld dimensions. Kit refuses to believe this nonsense as the old man tugs him along a dark alley, when a sudden and violent wind storm surrounds them. Within seconds, Kit finds himself thrown to the ground, in 16th century England. His great grandfather, also named Cosimo, then introduces the world of ley line travel to Kit, leaving Kit rather in denial, yet fascinated. Still unwilling to participate in this hoax, he returns to modern day London, arrives at Mina’s apartment 8 hours later, and decides to prove to her what just happened to him in order for her to not be angry he was late for their date. As he pulls her down that same mysterious dark alley, the storm comes once again, and although they were holding hands, she ends up in 17th century Prague, and Kit ends up back in old London, frantic that he has apparently lost his girl!

Lawhead slowly introduces various characters, letting us know who the good guys and the bad guys are. He begins to weave stories within stories in each place in time that will all come together in future volumes. When you are reading the book you soon realize that all is not going to connect in this first book, and one must be patient. I totally enjoyed the ley line theory, and after getting half way through, started to chose characters I liked and the mini stories within that they got involved in. Visiting 17th Century Prague (Austria then), 16th century London, and both ancient and Victorian Egypt was fun to armchair travel to! At times I did feel this was printed television, and that it did read like a screenplay for a new sci-fi channel T.V. series because of the Quantum Leap/Stargate feel to it. But I found by the end of the book, that it was O.K., and I liked what Lawhead did. I have to say I did enjoy it and am eagerly awaiting book two to see what creative innovation the author will use to entertain me and execute this cool concept of time travel using ley lines, all to find a map made of skin! This was interesting, fun, and different for a Lawhead novel, but it shows promise!
Profile Image for Douglas Hayes.
Author 1 book14 followers
October 20, 2011
My first book to read on Kindle!!!

Lawhead is a master of drawing you into the story HE wants to tell. Very often, I think, we come to a story with how we think it will go - and feel pleasantly surprise or sorrowfully disappointed by the journey. I've learned, with Lawhead, to allow him to tell his story, and I'm never disappointed.

The very idea of a map made of human skill is a thought most revolting. But with this story I am now convinced that, given the enormous importance of the map for the human race, these was no other way.

And now for a discursive monologue: I've forgotten how much I hate reading a trilogy or quintology(?), without the whole story being complete. I lose the excitement and momentum between books. I'm now one book into the five book series of the BRIGHT EMPIRE series. God only knows when the rest will be available. By the time the story's journey is complete I'll have forgotten all of the important details. Maybe I'll have to re-read the books every time a new one comes out - maybe not so bad!

The whole idea that there are alternate realities that affect one another is a thought most difficult to get my mind wholly around. And yet, it is intriguing. Clearly, from a biblical worldview, reality is made up of more that our physical, experiential comprehension. And we know that heaven is a reality that impacts our world. Do we dare to imagine a created omniverse in which various universes have multiple connections to one another? Are the past and future present realities in some sense? We know that God inhabits all of time simultaneously. Has he given us access to all of these realities? If so, what are the consequences in the hands of evil men?

I guess I'll have to wait to find out!
Profile Image for Madeline J. Rose.
Author 1 book31 followers
June 15, 2021
Initial Response
I...don't know how to review this. Like, seriously. HOW?!

High Lights
- Kit was such a funny, relatable main character! I really liked him and his antics.
- The SUSPENSE. I was turning page after page, trying to figure out who was who and who did what and AGH. Intense stuff right here.
- I LOVE the idea of ley lines. That was super cool and I can't wait to learn more about them and how they work and such.
- All the characters were really great, well-written, and believable. I loved all of them. Even the villain, in his own way.

Low Lights
- Not many! Though I did find the writing dragged on slightly for the first half. It took a while for the 'chase' to begin, if I may. But once it was started...O_O
- There was a lot of description scattered all throughout, which was certainly not a bad thing. But maybe a bit much of it?

This was an AMAZING read! It wasn't a light read, but if you're looking to invest in a series, I would definitely recommend starting this one! I, for one, am eager to read the second book...and the third...and the fourth... ;)
Profile Image for Bill Tillman.
1,644 reviews64 followers
June 17, 2011
The beginning of a great new series, very different from previous Lawhead books I have read. Much to discouver, many secrets hidden or lost. Read it!
Profile Image for Amanda Deed.
Author 10 books25 followers
June 4, 2012
Stephen Lawhead is one of my all time favourites. This book took me a long time to get into, but by the end I was completely engrossed and can't wait to read the next part of the series.
Profile Image for Maria Monte.
5 reviews
January 3, 2022
I'm not a big fan of series books, especially ones that have a consistent story line. The fear of investing in a series that may fall flat and leave me disappointed usually discourages me from starting or continuing a series. I started this book wary, picked up due to boredom and a lack of options, convinced that I would forget about it as soon as I finished it. However, The Skin map managed to intrigue me enough to pick up the second book.

The book had its flaws, firstly, that one of the subplots were more engaging to read than the main plot. I found Wilhelmina and Etzel to be my favourite pair and subplot—and I actually found Mina to be a more enjoyable narrator than Kit. I don't think I would be able to finish the book without her refreshing go-getter personality.

Kit, despite being the main character of the series, is one of my least favourite characters (as of this moment, considering it is a series, I expect him to grow). He is a bit of an insufferable asshole, a loser that hates his job and his girlfriend but have no plan to change it. He described Mina as:

“Dressed in black slacks and a black turtleneck with the horrible, ratty, hand-knitted purple scarf she wore everywhere, with her feet stuffed into flat-heeled, sheepskin boots, she was a dead ringer for the undertaker’s anemic daughter.”

And said, in the same scene:

“he was once more impressed with the idea that he simply had to get a better girlfriend at first opportunity.”

Which, I did not enjoy reading. Hammering in my dislike of Kit was the long-winded description of the Lady Fayth. With that being said, the book does not have many immediate flaws.

Kit being unlikable showcases that the author is capable of writing different fleshed out characters. All the characters are very unique and are unmistakable from each other, even when they are similar by description—such as "old and intelligent". The author also writes the female characters as real characters, not catalysts or for the sake of other characters.

The book is an invitingly easy read—with an engaging description of the different times/countries which the characters found themselves in. It took the setting into consideration and never once forgot [it], which I find to be a common occurrence in some books; but even with its attention to detail to the setting, the book does not forget about it's characters.

The suspense is well written and leaves you at the edge of your seat, wondering what's next—and the fighting is realistic and full of struggle showcasing the different strengths and personalities of the characters.

I am looking forward to the next book. Honestly, mostly for Wilhemina—I hope her bakery keeps on going.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 6 books98 followers
June 12, 2018
Good book. Not amazing, but good. Wilhelmina is kind of the best. I find it ironic that her chapters were my favorites in the book when Kit and Arthur and Cosimo and the rest are the ones off gallivanting through the Omniverse and facing off with bad guys and so forth. Seriously, though, she takes everything in stride so well and instead of being all angsty, she's just like "Whatever, I'm stuck here now; let's open the best storming bakery in the city with this guy I just met, bully my landlord into doing what I want until we accidentally become friends, and become a magnificently successful merchant. Not like I have anything else to do." Honestly, that girl is kind of goals. (I also low-key ship her and Etzel; just saying.)

Anyway. Yeah. The concept is cool. Ley-lines are interesting. Kit's fine, though nothing special. The villain is annoying. Arthur's ok. But Wilhelmina and her stubborn business-bakery-ing is the best and I totally gave this book an extra star just for that.
Profile Image for Christa Kinde.
Author 21 books162 followers
October 15, 2017
Alternate realities and relative timelines.

Kit becomes lost in modern-day London and stumbles across a man who claims to be his great-grandfather. Cosimo is a questor, due in large part to a knack for ley travel. A knack Kit shares. But he has no interest in learning more and returns to his home and to his drab girlfriend. She's annoyed. He tries to explain. She doesn't believe him. So Kit decides to show Wilhelmina the place where he made the leap to another world. But they're separated. To find her, Cosimo needs a map. Only they're not the only ones looking for it.

The story unfolds on several fronts, across different realities, and with crisscrossing chronologies. Lawhead weaves everything skillfully, layering hints and details along the way. Vivid descriptions sometimes pull at the pacing, but the patient reader is well rewarded. I'm launching directly into Book 2.
Profile Image for Kiri Dawn.
425 reviews27 followers
December 14, 2020
Pulled this one off my unread shelf on a whim, as it had been awhile since I'd enjoyed a Lawhead and I've been loving fantasy/sci-fi so much this year. This one was a bit different from what I remember of his other works. Another review I read mentioned it as YA, and it does almost read that way. Like a Prince of Persia, fast-paced take on a usual Lawhead novel. It was quite a fun read, and I'm looking forward to finding the second installment.
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