Monday, November 11, 2013

The Shadow Lamp - Day One of the November 2013 CSFF Blog Tour

The Shadow Lamp, book four of the Bright Empires saga, continues the tortuous ventures of Kit Livingston and Wilhelmina Klug who ley jumped into an alternate universe in the inaugural book, The Skin Map. With the introduction of so many characters along the way, and the many plunges into an alternate world, the story becomes nearly as difficult to follow as the plot of The Maltese Falcon, unless one has a photographic memory or keeps a meticulous log.

Having said that, I found The Shadow Lamp a relative breeze compared to the previous three installments. Even so, I won’t attempt to summarize the story and provide a track of its individual characters. Jeff Chapman, who I hope is participating in this tour, typically outshines us all in that effort and I will defer to him.

Lawhead’s development of his characters is without question superb. To give two or three characters a personality that is noticeably distinct from one another, and to keep them consistent throughout the tale, is challenging. But to have so many as this saga has, each one recognizably unique and coherent, are marks of a very talented writer. It is true that there is a large amount of narrative in the story, which to a large part tells rather than shows. But the narrative provides an indispensable framework that enhances the interaction of the characters and the attendant dialogue. The interweaving of the two is smooth and a loss of one or the other would degrade the story.

Mr. Lawhead has conveniently provided a list of characters at the beginning of the book, which provides a reminder of who is who and a sense of what they are like. That list with a synopsis of what has taken place in the first three volumes is invaluable, even for those who have read the entire saga from the start.

One character on the Who’s who? list refers to Mina’s associate venturer in the Grand Imperial Kaffeehaus in Prague.

Engelbert Stiffelbeam – a baker from Rosenheim in Germany, affectionately known as Etzel.

Happy day (and alternate reality) it was for Mina, who very shortly after she screamed herself silent when she landed in fifteenth century Prague (unbeknownst to her at that moment), gathered her wits, and as Providence smiled, encountered Engelbert handling the reins of a mule drawn wagon slowly making his way into the city. Engelbert gave her a lift, and as she sat beside him, she took to assessing her newfound friend, and though she did not know it yet, her future business partner. But that first meeting – how quaint it was, and so full of promise that things might turn out well for Mina after all.

As the vehicle drew nearer, she realized that it was not, as she had first imagined, a simple field conveyance, but a much more substantial vehicle: a large, high-sided affair with a cloth top drawn over curved hoops to form a round tentlike covering. The wagon was pulled by not one but two rangy, long-eared mules, and sitting on the driver’s bench was a very plump man in a baggy cloth hat. She stopped and allowed the vehicle to meet her, whereupon it slowed and rolled to a halt.
“Hiya!” she called, putting on a chirpy voice in the fledgling hope that her damp and bedraggled appearance might be overlooked.
Guten Tag,” came the reply, which sent Wilhelmina instantly back to her childhood and her German Grandmother’s kitchen.
The unexpected oddity of encountering a Deutschsprachigen on the road only served to deepen her already fathomless confusion. Bereft of speech, she could only stare at the man.
....the traveller put down the reins and stood, leaned over, and indicated the iron step ring projecting from the base of the wagon bed behind the front wheel, then reached down his hand. She placed a muddy boot on the step and accepted the offered hand, and was pulled effortlessly up and onto the wooden seat....
They proceeded in silence, rocking over the uneven road. Now and then, she stole a glance at the driver of the wagon.... The plump fellow presented an altogether unremarkable appearance—save for his face: smooth, pink as a baby’s, round, even-featured, with pale blue eyes beneath pale eyebrows, and ample cheeks that glowed in the brisk autumn breeze beneath the fine haze of a thin, stubbly blond beard.
It was the sweet-natured face that made him, she decided, for the countenance with which he faced the world wore an expression of benign cheerfulness—as if all that met his gaze amused and delighted, as if the world and everything in it existed only for his pleasure. He seemed to exude goodwill. (The Skin Map, pp 80-82)

Mina and Etzel became business partners of a thriving Kaffeehaus of the late middle ages. They become close friends as Mina’s first instincts about the man proved true – so true that Etzel remained ever faithful to her in the most trying circumstances that unfold in our present novel:

... He [Burleigh] moved into the room and lowered his voice. “Your associate has involved herself in my business and I want to know why. I want to know everything.”
Concern wrinkled the baker’s placid brow. “I do not understand.”
“My German is not so good.” Burleigh stepped closer. “I will try to explain. The Fraulein is interfering in my affairs. I want to know why. In fact, I want to know everything.”
“I think you should go now,” replied Engelbert, crossing his arms across his massive chest....
“We are not finished,” said Burleigh. He called to Tav.... “He refuses to talk. See if you can loosen his tongue.”
“Right, Boss.” Tav quickly took up a position in front of Etzel....With catlike quickness, his hand flashed out, seizing his victim by the throat. “Listen, you ignorant oaf,” he said, his voice a grating whisper in the startled baker’s ear. “My boss here asked you a question. I suggest you tell him what he wants to know. Or this could get messy....”
Engelbert fell back rubbing his neck. “I will tell you nothing, he said. “You must leave now.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when Tav’s fist smashed into his jaw, snapping his head to the side.
“As I have explained,” said Burleigh, “you will tell me what I want to know.”
The baker, glaring at his attackers from below lowered brows, rubbed his jaw and shook his head. “I will tell you nothing.”
“We shall see.” Burleigh nodded at Tav, who reached into a coat pocket and produced a set of  brass knuckles, making a show of fitting them to his hand and making a first.
“You think to hurt me?” said Engelbert. “You think maybe that if you hurt me this will make me tell you something? Is that what you are thinking?”
“I give you one last chance....”
Tav slammed his fist down on the wooden tabletop....
“Shame on you,” said Engelbert, with a defiant thrust of his chin. “I will tell you nothing.”
Tav lunged forward plunging his fist in the big man’s stomach. Engelbert staggered back, hit the oven, and fell onto his hands and knees. The Burley Man lashed out with his boot, striking again at the baker’s round stomach.
Etzel loosed a gasp of pain. He gulped air and held his side. “Yes, you can hurt me,” he said, his voice tight and strained. “Still, I say nothing.”
....His next blow caught the baker on the side of the head, opening a gash  above his eye. Blood spurted from the cut and splashed down the baker’s round, cherubic face....
“You can knock me down until I get up no more,” Etzel said, dragging himself upright. “But still I tell you nothing....”
“As Wilhelmina has placed her trust in me, I place my trust in God.” He cupped his broken chin. “God is my refuge and strength.” (The Shadow Lamp, pp 288-290)

And on it went. What a faithful friend. What an inspiring character.

Stephen R. Lawhead's Web Page
List of CSFF Blog Tour Participants
The Spirit Well on Amazon - Hardcover   Kindle

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Shadow Lamp for review on the November, 2013 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.


  1. Mina is definitely one of my favorite characters in this saga; I've loved tracking the saga (especially the initial opening) of her coffeehouse. Must be the entrepreneur in me. • ch:

  2. I love Mina but Etzel is my own favorite! Great explanation; you're right that there's a lot of "telling" versus "showing," though I hadn't thought about it that way. Still enjoyable, read, though! (both the series thus far and your review)