The Shadow Lamp, by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2013)
A diverse cast of characters assembled from various times and places on Earth, a mysterious quest, powerful enemies, inter-dimensional travel to multiple Earths… The Shadow Lamp is an intriguing tale of adventure where even the smallest detail can have great significance.
This is a novel where the objective omniscient point of view works very well. There are too many plot threads for readers to benefit from a more intimate, deeper point of view, and somehow the omniscient approach gives the feel that we’re seeing the whole picture. There are even occasional moments where the narrator points to something the characters should have seen.
If you prefer tidy, self-contained fiction, you might want to give this one a miss. But if you enjoy the chance to explore a sprawling, multi-novel series with diverse and exotic settings, dive in.
You may want to start at the beginning with The Skin Map, but it didn’t take me long to orient myself in The Shadow Lamp with no previous experience. (It’s Book 4 in the Bright Empires Series.) The book opens with a list of key characters and a recap.
Some of the character descriptions, as well as the tone of the recap and the chapter titles, hint at a light-hearted touch to the narrative, and while it didn’t turn out to be as funny as I’d hoped, I didn’t mind. The story itself kept my interest. I didn’t find it particularly tense, but I always wanted to see what would happen next.
Although there are some deep concepts in this novel, readers don’t have to be scientists or intellectually-inclined. Characters travel between dimensions along something known as “ley lines,” which readers learn about by watching the characters learn. Multiple universes are touched on in the same non-threatening way.
The Shadow Lamp comes from a Christian publisher, but it feels like the sort of novel to please mainstream audiences as well. There are Christian characters, agnostics, and even an ancient priest of the Egyptian gods. Faith (or lack thereof) gives the characters their worldviews, but they don’t spend much time talking about it.
The most significant faith-talk comes in philosophical and scientific contexts: free will, and the effects of Jesus’ resurrection on the past/present/future. Toward the end, they talk more about science, generally accepting the Big Bang (or Alpha Point) theory and the measured expansion of the universe. Readers don’t need to agree with the characters’ opinions to enjoy the novel. It is, after all, speculative fiction.
Stephen R. Lawhead is perhaps best known for his mythic history novels about Arthurian times, and the Bright Empires series continues to bring to life richly-imagined settings from the past. To learn more about this internationally-acclaimed author and his books, visit his website: stephenlawhead.com.
Is spec fiction experiencing a resurgence (or maybe ‘surgence’ – as in popular as never before)? In a recent Publisher’s Weekly newsletter about new releases, the majority seemed either spec or science, including a dystopian spec (the continuation of a series, I think) by Margaret Atwood.
Dystopian fiction is definitely on the rise, and I’m not sure what it says about our society’s hope for the future. Some of it I really like, but most is too dark for me.
I’m pleased to see more speculative fiction of all varieties being published in the Christian genre.