Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Fatal Tree: Review

Imagine a universe knit together like a scarf--everything is connected, nothing is coincidental. 

Cut one thread, and the whole universe begins to unravel.

Welcome back to the CSFF tour for Stephen Lawhead's The Fatal Tree! Feel free to stop by the tour's headquarters here for a list of all the other participant's posts.

As I said yesterday, this is the final book in Lawhead's Bright Empires series, a time travel story. More specifically, it's a story about alternate dimensions. Lawhead centers this series on the idea that every decision or every major event in this world creates a new world, where a different decision has created a slightly different reality. In this world, new worlds are constantly appearing, which pushes the edges of the universe outward as ever increasing rates--as scientists have been able to observe.

I've read a variety of time travel stories, but not a large quantity. The Fatal Tree, along with the other Bright Empires books, fits into the genre pretty well, with a few fun twists. There are the ley lines in England, the Sedona vortexes, and the whimsical, but very serious Zetetic Society of ley travelers intent on exploring and decoding the finicky patterns of the ley lines.

In the previous four books, Kit Livingstone gets a crash course in ley lines and inter-dimensional travel, while trying to track down the missing skin map which holds the secret to the omniverse--though no one knows exactly what that secret is. Lord Burleigh, a dark and evil villain, is also after the map. Burleigh's schemes knows no bounds, but Kit, of course, has to avoid messing with history in his ley travels.

Then, in the fourth book, The Shadow Lamp, Kit learns that someone has already changed history. If he and his friends can't undo the damage in time, the universe's expansion will reverse itself and the world will end. All the worlds will end...

I've somehow missed reading Lawhead's books before now, but this series makes for a fast, fun story, especially when you add in the quirks of being able to time travel. After all, I'd love to be able to jump to another dimension and spend four years studying a foreign language as one of the characters does-- before coming back three days later to find nothing important has happened. It would be very convenient, if nothing else, and easier than trying to not meet yourself while using a Time-Turner.

Apart from the search for the Skin Map, though, my favorite parts is the idea of finding a place where you feel at home. At different points in the story, both Kit and his (former) girlfriend Wilhelmina find themselves stuck in strangely new worlds. I won't spoil anything by saying where they end up feeling most at home, but it's an interesting concept and makes me wish even more than usual that I could visit another era. 

Still, if I could change one thing about this story, it would be to add more depth to the characters. I tend to like stories for their characters. I like action too, which Lawhead offers in abundance, but for the first book in particular, the characters felt flat. That book, The Skin Map, ended with a great cliffhanger, but it took me another book or so until I really connected to Kit or Wilhelmina. Even then, Kit doesn't get a lot of development, and only one part of the plot involves major character growth. Incidentally, even that ended up being a bit chaotic and left me mildly confused at the end.

For sci-fi/fantasy fans, Bright Empires is a fascinating genre-bending series, combining elements of both science and myth. It's also a fun adventure read, with a large helping of imaginative extrapolation. None of the books stood out to me individually, but I did like the series as a whole and would recommend them to readers with a taste for fantasy. 

[My thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for sending me an electronic review copy of The Fatal Tree, in exchange for my honest opinion of the book.]


Janeen Ippolito said...

Thanks for your coherent review! You summarize things very well. I tend to be rather harsh on this series, but you bring up good points about how fun it is. Sometimes I think I lose that fun in the seriousness of the plot. But what a way to learn a language!

Julie Bihn said...

Great thoughts there! I actually read Book 2, then 3, then 1, then 4, then 5. I think I liked the series more that way; Mina in particular really comes into her own in Book 2, so she fascinated me almost as soon as I started reading about her. The summary of Book 1 at the start was enough that I could follow along, but having holes to try to fill in kept me enthralled.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Audrey Sauble said...

Janeen--I find the balance to be tricky too! I like how you focus on the individual characters in your review; it was really helpful for me even after reading the books and reviewing them myself.

That order actually makes sense to me, Julie. Mina was one of the main reasons I got into the story once it really started moving.

Rebekah Loper said...

I would have loved more depth to the characters as well! We definitely got more depth in some of the later books, but sometimes it felt like there were too many characters to allow for depth. I think if even 2-3 of them had been cut out, or made into more minor plot players than major ones, it would have allowed for more.

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

Interesting that so many people are naming Mina as one of the reasons they got pulled into the series. I loved her too, and think she's a coup for Lawhead: I've been reading his books for YEARS (since I was a kid) and have always felt that his female characterizations weren't especially strong. I l really like some of them, but they always seemed a tad two-dimensional. Mina breaks that trend entirely.

Glad you've discovered this author! He's always been one of my favourites. I hope you enjoy getting into his other books!

(Oh, and I love your comment about finding a home. I've realized I feel very at home on the road, always moving and learning, so the concept of ley leaping felt very homelike in itself to me. I'll miss it.)

Audrey Sauble said...

I know, Rebekah! But at the same time, I rather liked the minor characters, so it would be hard to imagine the story without some of them. I also felt that Kit especially didn't get much reaction/reflection time. It is a fast pace story, but it could have used a couple of slower, more emotional scenes, especially after the rescue in Book 1.

Rachel--I'll be curious to watch for that trend when I get to Lawhead's other books. The odd thing with Mina being such a strong character was that I really wanted to knock Kit over the head for just letting things slide with their relationship.

Thanks everyone for the discussion!

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