I must admit that Stephen Lawhead almost lost me at one point, but I carried on with the last two books of the Bright Empires pentalogy, and came out a fan again.
If you’ve followed my reviews of the previous books, The Skin Map, The Bone House, and The Spirit Well (or if you’ve read the books; some people prefer to do it that way), you know the series involves a group of people who have learned the secrets of “ley travel,” using particular geographical formations in the earth at sunrise or sunset to travel to other times, places, and dimensions. The earlier books involve a sort of race between the good guys and the villainous Lord Burleigh to locate the “Skin Map,” the tanned skin of the discoverer of the ley lines, who had their locations tattooed on his body.
My temporary problems with the story occurred in the fourth book, The Shadow Lamp. I feared, for a while, that author Lawhead had succumbed to “Game of Thrones Disease” – not in terms of perversion, I hasten to add, but just in the sense of producing a story so complex and sprawling that he loses control of it. The characters seemed to be running around chasing each other through time and space, without advancing the story line much. But in the second half of the book things sharpen up. The focus shifts when the characters become aware that thoughtless ley traveling has caused a disruption in the very fabric of the cosmos. The quest becomes one to return to timeless Spirit Well and undo a thoughtless act. That quest continues in the final book, The Fatal Tree. By the time I got into that one I was back with the story all the way, and I found the resolution entirely satisfactory, nay, moving.
Lawhead (as I read him) has been endeavoring for some time to figure out a way to write epic fantasy without big battles. The Bright Empires series is his most successful effort so far.