Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Bone House

Title: The Bone House
Series: Bright Empires #2

Genre: Adult alternate-reality sci-fi

Excerpt from “Chapter 1, In Which Some Things Are Best Forgotten,” of The Bone House:

From a snug in the corner of the Museum Tavern, Douglas Flinders-Petrie dipped a sop of bread into the gravy of his steak and kidney pudding and watched the entrance to the British Museum across the street. The great edifice was dark, the building closed to the public for over three hours. The employees had gone home, the charwomen had finished their cleaning, and the high iron gates were locked behind them. The courtyard was empty and, outside the gates, there were fewer people on the street now than an hour ago. He felt no sense of urgency: only keen anticipation, which he savoured as he took another draught of London Pride. He had spent most of the afternoon in the museum, once more marking the doors and exits, the blind spots, the rooms where a person might hide and remain unseen by the night watchmen, of which there were but three to cover the entire acreage of the sprawling institution.

Douglas knew from his researches that at eleven each night the head watchman retired to his office on the ground floor to make tea. He would be duly joined by his two underling guards, and the three would enter their observations in the logbook and then spend an enjoyable thirty minutes drinking their tea, eating pies, and exchanging gossip.

While they were thus occupied, he would strike.

Two modern Londoners chase a map through multiple historical dimensions.

The Craft: For me, The Bone House was a mixed read.

While I enjoyed the novel, the plot seemed to take an unusually long time to hook me. It was almost halfway into the story before I was eager to learn what happened next. At any time preceding that, I could have walked away without regret, unconcerned about the characters’ fate. Considering this is book two, such low emotional investment in the characters is somewhat alarming.

The plot’s meandering feel, mixed with minor confusion over some of the timelines, also impeded progress. Some scenes, though probably needed, felt irrelevant at the time of reading and lacked good bridging tension. In addition, the different storylines, which I assume are all necessary, seem to have only peripheral bearing on each other at a time I fully expected their interconnection to start becoming apparent.

But beyond this, the writing was good. The huge cast of characters, which challenge the most expert writers, is well delineated. The historical worlds are vividly drawn—a Lawhead specialty that will not disappoint in this book. The prose please the ear, and the plot continues to have some intriguing twists.

The Content: As often happens, the content mirrors the craft—The Bone House again presents a mixed bag.

The Bone House doesn’t carry much by way of thematic material, which felt a little unusual even for a Lawhead novel. Of course, I may have simply missed them in the midst of the story. There were a couple interesting discussions on death and mortality, man’s craving for immortality, and man as a living soul. I fully expect to see these topics further expanded in the future.

However, on the negative side, I did have some unease with how some elements were handled. The whole piece with cavemen/primitive man felt distorted, although I cannot pinpoint the exact reasons for my mixed reactions to that.

But perhaps more concerning were the scenes involved in the Egyptian foretelling. While such rituals did take place and the characters appear to have no reason for them not to get involved, these kinds of acts are forbidden in Scripture. Therefore, in a Christian novel, I would fully expected those acts to be ultimately seen in a negative light. But thus far there have been no negative repercussions and it could even be construed that such rituals are being put forth as harmless, if not outright helpful.

As a result, this content require discernment and some caution should be applied.

Summary: The Bone House didn’t seem to quite live up to the standard I have come to expect from a Stephen Lawhead novel, containing both positive and negative points in craft and content.  I would not recommend it for teens under sixteen or new Christians. Otherwise, it is an interesting, take-it-or-leave-it story, though those who like both science-fiction and historicals may greatly enjoy this book.

Ratings: Craft—4, Content—3, Overall—3.8 out of 5 stars


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I always appreciate your hard-hitting reviews, Chawna. I took a while to get into the story, too, but credited it to the fact that there were so many perspective switches. It seemed like nearly every chapter put us into a different character's story and I sometimes had to review a little to remember who the new person was. Because of that, I didn't always know what the character wanted or if I should be rooting for or against him.

Still, I find it intriguing and understand that we are only 2/5 of the way along a grand story line.


Bruce Hennigan said...

I like the way you put a disclaimer. I had some problems with the lack of a definitive reference to Christ and to not recommend this for new Christians or children is a good idea. Good Review!

Chawna Schroeder said...

Thanks, Becky. It's nice to know someone enjoys reading my review, especially when I struggle one like this, being such a mixed bag.

I also thought the multiple POVs might have played a role, yet I know I've read large-cast novels before and not had the problem. So I'm not sure why it took so long to hook me. Considering a class I recently took, I'm wondering if the bridging tension (or microtension as it is sometimes called) wasn't as strong as it needed to be to pull of the multiple storylines. But of course, that's just a thought on my part--novels are complicated things!

And thanks for stopping by, Bruce. I didn't expect a storng reference to Christ from this novel, since Stephen Lawhead caters to a large secular audience and his Christianity tends to more the worldview foundation of the story rather than the overt focus on the Christian life.

That said, there were concerns which I noted in the review, which led to my "disclaimers," as you called them. I do that because I review a wide variety of novels for many age groups, with an eye to guiding readers to the book most appropriate for them (or in the case of parents, for their kids). This way I can recommend books I enjoy but which may not be appropriate for all readers.

Anonymous said...

I agree about there not being a strong thematic core to the novel. It made me feel a little apathetic about the characters.
I'm mixed about the attitude toward the pagan elements. On the one hand, I am a little weary of the heavy-handed "look how evil the heathen are" attitude that tends to be threaded through some Christian science fiction. On the other hand, you're right, it felt a little odd to be reading something so seemingly placid about an occult ritual.

Good thoughts!