The Skin Map (Bright Empires Series #1)

The Skin Map (Bright Empires Series #1)

3.8 152
by Stephen R. Lawhead

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It is the ultimate quest for the ultimate treasure. Chasing a map tattooed on human skin. Across an omniverse of intersecting realities. To unravel the future of the future.

Kit Livingstone’s great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are

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It is the ultimate quest for the ultimate treasure. Chasing a map tattooed on human skin. Across an omniverse of intersecting realities. To unravel the future of the future.

Kit Livingstone’s great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds. To those who know how to use them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily inhabit only a tiny part.

One explorer knew more than most. Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery. Ever on his guard and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code—a roadmap of symbols—that he tattooed onto his own body. This Skin Map has since been lost in time. Now the race is on to recover all the pieces and discover its secrets.

But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal. It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining.

The Bright Empires series—from acclaimed author Stephen R. Lawhead—is a unique blend of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery. The result is a page-turning, adventure like no other.

“Anything but ordinary . . . Dynamic settings are mixed with unpredictable adventures [and] parallel worlds.” —BookPage

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Editorial Reviews

Kit Livingstone's never expected to see his great-grandfather Cosimo alive. Nor was he even slightly prepared to learn that the legendary "ley lines" that spot Britain are real and can be used as highways to other worlds. These astonishing revelations are only the beginning of Livingstone's adventures into the unknown and, for us, the launch of an exciting new fantasy series. (Hand-selling tip: British writer Stephen R. Lawhead is the author of such mythic novels as The King Raven and Song of Albion.)

Product Details

Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date:
Bright Empires Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.72(w) x 8.24(h) x 1.14(d)

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A Bright Empires Novel

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2010 Stephen Lawhead
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4185-6263-2

Chapter One

In Which Old Ghosts Meet

Had he but known that before the day was over he would discover the hidden dimensions of the universe, Kit might have been better prepared. At least, he would have brought an umbrella.

Like most Londoners, Kit was a martyr to the daily travails of navigating a city whose complexities were legendary. He knew well the dangers even the most inconsequential foray could involve. Venturing out into the world beyond his doorstep was the urban equivalent of trial by combat and he armed himself as best he could. He had long ago learned his small patch of the great metropolitan sprawl; he knew where the things most needful for survival were to be found and how to get to them. He kept in his head a ready-reference library of street maps, bus routes, and time schedules. He had memorised the pertinent sections of the London Underground tube schematic; he knew the quickest ways to work, and from work to his favourite pubs, the grocers, the cinema, the park where he jogged.

Sadly, knowing all of this was rarely enough.

This morning was a perfect case in point. Only minutes before, he had stepped out the door of his flat in Holloway on a jaunt to accompany his girlfriend on a long-promised shopping trip. Oblivious to the fact that he had already embarked on a journey of no return, he proceeded to the nearest tube station, flapped his Oyster card at the gate, stormed down the stairs as the train came rattling to the platform, and leapt aboard as the beeping doors began to close. He counted off the first two of the four stops to his destination and was just allowing himself to imagine that all was running according to plan when he was informed at the third stop that the line was closed ahead for routine maintenance.

"All passengers must change," crackled a voice through tinny loudspeakers. "This train is terminated."

Joining the grumbling pack, Kit found his way once again to street level, where a special bus had been provided for tube users to continue their journey-but which was artfully hidden at the far side of King's Cross station. The fact that it was Sunday, and that Tottenham Hotspur was playing Arsenal, had completely slipped his mind until he glimpsed the waiting bus and the queue of Tottenham fans stretching halfway down Euston Road. Unwilling to wait, he quickly devised an alternative plan for meeting Wilhelmina: just nip across the road and take the Northern Line from King's Cross to Moorgate, then take the train to Liverpool Street, change to the Central Line, and get off at Bethnal Green; from there it would be a quick bus ride up to Grove Road. A brisk walk through Victoria Park would bring him to Wilhelmina's place on Rutland Road. Easy peasy, he thought as he dived back into the Underground.

Once again, Kit fished his Oyster card from his pocket and waved it at the turnstile. This time, instead of the green arrow, the light on the pad flashed red. Aware of the foot traffic already piling into him from behind, he tapped the card against the sensor again and was awarded with the dreaded "Seek Assistance" display. Terrific. He sighed inwardly and began backing through the queue to the scorn and muttered abuse of his fellow travellers, most of whom were dressed in football jerseys of one kind or another. "Sorry," he grumbled, fighting his way through the press. "Excuse me. Terribly sorry."

He dashed for the nearest ticket booth and, after negotiating an obstacle course of barriers and railings, arrived to discover there was no one around. He rapped on the window and when that failed ran on to the next window where, after a vigorous pounding, he managed to rouse the attendant. "My Oyster card doesn't work," Kit explained.

"It's probably out of money," replied the agent.

"But I just topped it up a couple days ago. Can't you check it?"

The agent took the card and looked at it. He swiped it through a terminal beside the window. "Sorry, mate." He pushed the card back through the slot. "The computer is down."

"Okay, never mind," Kit relented. He started digging in his pockets. "I'll put five pounds on it."

"You can do it online," the agent informed him.

"But I'm here now," Kit pointed out, "in person."

"It's cheaper online."

"That is as may be," Kit agreed. "But I have to travel now-today."

"You can pay at a machine."

"Right," said Kit. Down on the platform below, he could hear the train clattering in and he hurried to the nearest ticket machine-which, after repeated attempts, refused to accept his five-pound note, spitting out the limp bill each time. The next machine along was for credit cards only, and the last of three was out of service. Kit ran back to the booth. "The ticket machine won't take my money," he said, sliding the fiver through the gap in the window. "Can you give me coin? Or another bill?"

The attendant regarded the crumpled bill. "Sorry."

"Sorry what?"

"Computer's down."

"But I can see the money there," Kit said, frustration mounting. He pointed through the window to a change machine cartridge stacked with rows of coins waiting to be dispensed. "Can't you just reach over and get some money?"

"We're not allowed to take money out of the machine."

"Why not?"

"It's automatic, and the comp-"

"I know, I know," grumped Kit, "the computer's down."

"Try one of the other windows."

"But there's nobody at the other windows."

The attendant gazed at him pityingly. "It's Sunday."

"Yeah, so?"

"Reduced service on Sunday."

"No kidding!" cried Kit. "Why do you even bother coming to work?"

The attendant shrugged. Directing his gaze past Kit, he called, "Next!"-although there was no one in line.

Accepting temporary defeat, Kit made his way back up to the street. There were numerous shops where he might have changed a five-pound note-if not for the fact that it was Sunday and all were either observing weekend hours or closed for the day. "Typical," sniffed Kit, and decided that it would be easier, and no doubt faster, just to walk the three or so miles to Wilhelmina's. With this thought in mind, he sailed off, dodging traffic and Sunday-morning pedestrians in the sincere belief that he could still reach Mina's on time. He proceeded along Pentonville Road, mapping out a route in his head as he went. He had gone but a few hundred paces when he began to experience the sinking feeling that he had become completely disoriented and was going the wrong way-something that had happened to him before around the no-man's-land of King's Cross. Realizing that he had to head north and west, he turned left onto Grafton Street, tooled along avoiding a barrage of roadwork, and quickly reached the next street north-an odd little lane called Stane Way.

So far, so good, he thought as he charged down the narrow walkway-really, nothing more than an alley providing service access for the shops on the parallel streets. After walking for two minutes, he started looking for the crossing street at the end. Two more minutes passed ... He should have reached the end by now, shouldn't he?

Then it started to rain.

Kit picked up his speed as the rain poured into the alley from low, swirling clouds overhead. He hunched his shoulders, put his head down, and ran. A wind rose out of nowhere and whipped down the length of the blank brick canyon, driving the rain into his eyes.

He stopped.

Pulling his phone from his pocket, he flipped open the screen. No signal.

"Bloody useless," he muttered.

Drenched to the skin, water dripping from the ends of his hair and tip of his nose, he shoved the phone back into his pocket. Enough of this, he decided. Abort mission. He made a swift about-face and, shoes squelching with every step, headed back the way he had come. Good news: the wind ceased almost at once and the rain dwindled away; the storm diminished as quickly as it had arisen.

Dodging one oily puddle after another, he jogged along and had almost regained the alley entrance at Grafton Street when he heard someone calling him-at least, he thought that is what he had heard. But with the spatter of rain from the eaves of the buildings round about, he could not be sure.

He slowed momentarily, and a few steps later he heard the call again-unmistakable this time: "Hello!" came the cry. "Wait!"

Keep moving, said the voice inside his head. As a general rule it kept him from getting tangled in the craziness of London's vagrant community. He glanced over his shoulder to see a white-haired man stumbling toward him out of the damp urban canyon. Where had he come from? Most likely a drunk who had been sleeping it off in a doorway. Roused by the storm, he had seen Kit and recognized an easy mark. Such was life; he prepared to be accosted.

"Sorry, mate," Kit called back over his shoulder as he turned away. "I'm skint."

"No! Wait!"

"No change. Sorry. Got to run."

"Cosimo, please."

That was all the vagrant said, but it welded Kit to the spot.

He turned and looked again at the beggar. Tall, and with a full head of thick silvery hair and a neatly trimmed goatee, he was dressed in charity-shop chic: simple white shirt, dark twill trousers, both sturdy, but well-worn. The fact that he stuffed the cuffs of his trousers into his high-top shoes and wore one of those old-timey greatcoats that had a little cape attached to the shoulders made him look like a character out of Sherlock Holmes.

"Look, do I know you?" asked Kit as the fellow hastened nearer.

"I should hope so, my boy," replied the stranger. "One would think a fellow would know his own great-grandfather."

Kit backed away a step.

"Sorry I'm late," continued the old man. "I had to make certain I wasn't followed. It took rather longer than I anticipated. I was beginning to fear I'd missed you altogether."

"Excuse me?"

"So, here we are. All's well that ends well, what?"

"Listen, mate," protested Kit. "I think you've got the wrong guy."

"What a joy it is to meet you at long last, my son," replied the old gentleman, offering his hand. "Pure joy. But of course, we haven't properly met. May I introduce myself? I am Cosimo Livingstone." He made a very slight bow.

"Okay, so what's the joke?" demanded Kit.

"Oh, it is no joke," the old man assured him. "It's quite true."

"No-you're mistaken. I am Cosimo Livingstone," he insisted. "And anyway, how do you know my name?"

"Would you mind very much if we discussed this walking? We really should be moving along."

"This is nuts. I'm not going anywhere with you."

"Ah, well, I think you'll find that you don't have much choice."

"Not true."


"Listen, mate, I don't know how you got hold of my name, but you must have me mixed up with someone else," Kit said, hoping to sound far more composed than he actually felt at the moment. "I don't mean to be rude, but I don't know you and I'm not going anywhere with you."

"Fair enough," replied the stranger. "What would it take to change your mind?"

"Forget it," said Kit, turning away. "I'm out of here."

"What sort of proof would you like? Names, birth dates, family connections-that sort of thing?"

He started off. "I'm not listening."

"Your father is John. Your mother is Harriet. You were born in Weston-super-Mare, but your family soon moved to Manchester, where your father worked as a managerial something or other in the insurance trade and your mother was a school administrator. When you were twelve, your family upped sticks again and resettled in London...."

Kit halted. He stood in the middle of the alley, wrestling with the twin sensations of alarm and disbelief. He turned around slowly.

The old man stood smiling at him. "How am I doing so far?"

Even in the uncertain light of the alley, the family resemblance was unmistakable-the strong nose, the heavy jaw and broad brow, the hair that rippled like waves from the forehead, the broad lips and dark eyes, just like his father's and obnoxious Uncle Leonard's. It was all of a basic design that Kit had seen repeated with greater or lesser variation in family members his entire life.

"Since university-Manchester, Media Studies, whatever that is-you have been working here and there, doing nothing of any real value-"

"Who are you?" demanded Kit. "How do you know these things?"

"But I've already told you," chuckled the old gentleman. "I am your great-grandfather."

"Oh, yeah? Would this be the great-grandfather who went down to the shops for a loaf of bread one morning and never came back? The same who abandoned a wife and three kids in Marylebone in 1893?"

"Dear me, you know about that, do you? Well, lamentably, yes. But it wasn't a loaf of bread; it was milk and sausages." The old man's gaze grew keen. "Tell me, what did you go out for this morning?"

Kit's mouth went dry.

"Hmm?" replied the stranger. "What was it? Tin of beans? Daily paper? This is how it always happens, don't you see?"

"No ...," said Kit, feeling more unhinged by the second.

"It's a family proclivity, you might say. A talent." The older man took a step nearer. "Come with me."

"Why, in the name of everything that's holy, would I go anywhere with you?"

"Because, my dear boy, you are a lonely twenty-seven-year-old bachelor with a worthless education, a boring no-hope job, a stalled love life, and very few prospects for the improvement of your sad lot."

"How dare you! You don't know anything about me."

"But I know everything about you, old chap." The old man took another step closer. "I thought we had already established that."

"Yeah? What else?"

The elder gentleman sighed. "I know that you are an overworked drone in a soul-destroying cube farm where you have been passed over for promotion two times in the last nine months. The last time you don't know about because they didn't even bother telling you."

"I don't believe this."

"You spend too much time alone, too much time watching television, and too little time cultivating the inner man. You live in a squalid little flat in what is referred to as a no-go zone from which your friends, of whom you see less and less, have all fled for the suburbs long ago with wives and sprogs in tow. You are exceedingly unlucky in love, having invested years in a romantic relationship which, as you know only too well, is neither romantic nor much of a relationship. In short, you have all the social prospects of a garden gnome."

Kit had to admit that except for the low crack about his love life, the old geezer was remarkably close to the mark.

"Is that enough?"

"Who are you?"

"I'm the man who has come to rescue you from a life of quiet desperation and regret." He smiled again. "Come, my boy. Let's sit down over a cup of coffee and discuss the matter like gentlemen. I've gone to a very great deal of trouble to find you. At the very least, you could spare me a few minutes out of your busy life."

Kit hesitated.

"Cup of coffee-thirty minutes. What could it hurt?"

Trepidation and curiosity wrestled one another for a moment. Curiosity won. "Okay," he relented. "Twenty minutes."

The two started walking toward the street. "I've got to call my girlfriend and tell her I'll be a little late," Kit said, pulling out his phone. He flipped it open and pressed the speed-dial key for Mina's number. When nothing happened, he glanced at the screen to see the "Network Not Connected" message blinking at him. He waved the phone in the air, then looked again. Still no tiny bars indicating a signal.

"Not working?" asked the older man, watching him with a bemused expression.

"Must be the buildings," mumbled Kit, indicating the close brick walls on either hand. "Blocking the signal."

"No doubt."

They continued on, and upon approaching the end of the alley, Kit thought he heard a sound at once so familiar, and yet so strange, it took him a full two seconds to place it. Children laughing? No, not children. Seagulls.

He had little time to wonder about this, for at that moment they stepped from the dim alleyway and into the most dazzling and unusual landscape Kit had ever seen.


Excerpted from THE SKIN MAP by STEPHEN R. LAWHEAD Copyright © 2010 by Stephen Lawhead. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Skin Map (Bright Empires Series) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 152 reviews.
laura24 More than 1 year ago
I loved reading this book. It was something new. very fast paced.
Chhaya More than 1 year ago
Contrary to my expectations I found 'The Skin Map' by Stephen Lawhead quite entertaining. It revolves round Kit Livingstone and his adventures in search for a map tattooed to the skin - hence the title skin map. This is no ordinary map as it reveals a portal between worlds. The supernatural element in the plot has been superbly woven and once you can understand the concept of the plot, the storyline falls in place. One of the major drawbacks of this genre of fiction is that usually they tend to become boring but Steven Lawhead seems to have done his research well and hence his work is quite interesting. The book is advised to be read at one go or else you might lose track of the plot. Over and above it is a nice work and once you get the hang of the plot it becomes quite unputdownable.
UnderthePink More than 1 year ago
In the very few first pages of this book, I didn't really know what to expect (and wasn't really sure if I really liked it). But boy would that soon change! This is an AMAZING book and Stephen Lawhead is truly a gifted author. From his detailed descriptions to his character development to his humor, he writes a perfect mix for a GREAT book! Heading over to purchase the second book in the series "The Bone House" right now. If you enjoy fantasy/time travel type books, you will love this one.
The_Book_Diva More than 1 year ago
C. Christopher "Kit" Livingstone is an average 20-something male. He is employed and has a girlfriend, and he isn't happy with either one. Kit's life changes when he meets his great-grandfather and is taught about ley lines that provide for inter-dimensional time travel -- different times and alternate universes. Unfortunately he tries to impress his girlfriend, Wilhelmina "Mina" Klug with ley line travel. Mina gets taken to early 17th century Prague whereas Kit is taken to 17th century England. What follows is a wild adventure of discovery and intrigue. Mina finds her place by becoming a successful merchant as co-owner of a bakery and coffeehouse and even earns a royal warrant. Kit is still floundering while trying to understand the importance of ley lines, the "skin map" that depicts and decodes these ley lines, and his role in decoding the information. This story is told from multiple points of views, namely Kit, Mina, Lord Burleigh and Arthur Flinders-Petrie. The reader travels to Macau, ancient Egypt during the times of the pharaohs, early 20th century Egypt and the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb by Henry Carter and Lord Carnarvon, and alternate 17th century European civilizations. The mystery lies in the ultimate purpose of the ley lines and the search for the Well of Souls, something that only Mr. Flinders-Petrie apparently knew and had coded into symbols tattooed onto his body. There are hints given to myths and mysteries but nothing is ever spelled out. Although Kit's role seems to be pivotal to this story I found all of the other characters much more interesting. Mina is determined to make the best of a bad situation and quickly adapts to living in the 16th century. Mr. Flinders-Petrie is the key and we're allowed a glimpse of his life and travels in Macau and ancient Egypt. I enjoyed reading about the various adventures each person has and even learning about the theories behind the ley lines and their importance in the hypothetical omniverse. The Skin Map is well-written but it moved a little too slow for my tastes, not to mention leaving too many questions to be answered in, presumably, the remaining books. I enjoyed this book but I doubt if I'll be reading any more in this series, it simply wasn't that captivating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Time travel, traveling between dimensions has always intrigued me. This is a well put together story. My only criticism of it is that the author is British and he writes like Brits speak, especially in the time periods. I've never cared much for British authors for that reason. On the other hand, I enjoyed the story enough that I bought the 2nd book in the series.
Grayeagle More than 1 year ago
Stephen Lawhead is one of my favorite authors and I always look forward to any of his new writings. THE SKIN MAP started off a bit slowly, but the story line is a unique concept and it takes a while to develop the format. Don't rush it. That will spoil the fun. Once into it, though, I was hooked. I certainly look forward to reading the following books in the Bright Empires series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I only started reading this because it was suggested after reading the Hunger Games... and I loved it! Possibly more than the Hunger Games. Yes it is choppy between chapters and sometimes you have to re-read a page to figure out who and when you are reading, but after a little while you find the rhythm and it no longer feels awkward. I love the story, I love the characters, and I cannot wait for the final book!
Lady_Diana More than 1 year ago
When I first read the preview of this book I was interested in reading it, it appealed to me. The one thing I didn’t know was how much I would really enjoy the story. This is one of those books that makes you want to get out of your house and try to explore and experiment if it is really just a story or something more. One of my favourite and more desired “wish-it’d-come-true” aspects since a very long time ago, the time/place travel related in this book makes you feel like a child again, with all the dreams and hopes. I think the story was very well written, with a healthy balance of slow and fast reading moments. I loved the multiple languages and cultures that appeared in the book. There is no real climax in this book, except in the end, which makes you hate (in that hate that shares the same line with love) the book’s ending. Why do you hate this? Because you know you won’t stop thinking about it until you have the next book. Completely in on the Steampunk theme, I will almost certainly reread the book, I will definitely read the sequel and my friends will hear me talk about this book until they’re sick and tired of me. I give it 5 stars.
Hana_Rui More than 1 year ago
The idea of time travel has always excited me. Imagine having the ability to go back in time and change a few minor details to make your present somehow livable... It's the stuff fantasies are made of, I know. But there is indeed truth to the saying, 'Reality is stranger than fiction', right? So, we never really know... However, this kind of life-altering adventure doesn't come without a hitch. Stephen R. Lawhead's book, The Skin Map, shows just how time travel can be used for both good and corrupted intentions. From the moment Cosimo Livingstone, his long-estranged great-grandfather appeared in some random alley overridden with ley lines, Kit knew his life would never be the same. He was a non-believer at first, but how much could he really deny after getting transported back in time himself? It became easy enough to believe everything from that point, especially since believing and moving forward was all he had if he ever hoped to find his girlfriend, whom he lost in the middle of a ley line leap. He just wasn't banking on how grave and perilous time traveling could be especially with a group of burley thugs constantly at their heels, tirelessly bullying them to produce a curious thing they called, the skin map. This novel follows the lives of the men and women, good and bad, willingly and not-so-willingly involved in the whole business of the skin map, a whole spread of torso skin that supposedly belonged to one Arthur Flinders-Petrie and that which contained the secrets to ley line travel. I am relatively new to the idea of ley lines. I may have read about them somewhere in the past, but nothing about them having the ability to open portals through time and space. And while it made a good enough concept to get this book started, the fact that it could open avenues to many different plains of reality through various fabrics of time became a little confusing to me in the long run-too many people, too many events, too little brain cells to efficiently keep up with everything. Add to this the fact that nothing was really concluded right down to the very last page. If anything, it just made the story more of a 'woah-what-just-happened' conundrum instead of the 'oh-so-that's-what-happened' resolution. It did have some interesting characters, though. And did good, too, in building up my interest to read the second book, if only to find out how all the loose ends the first book left will get entangled and knotted up right eventually. Not exactly a page-turner, but an entertaining read nevertheless. Just don't expect for any of the mysteries it introduces to be resolved in any way. Apparently, there are two other books to look forward to for that. ^-^
Anonymous 12 months ago
Kit starts to develop some character as the misadventures continue. I liked Arthur and his Chinese wife a lot. Burleigh is a good villain to hate. Lots of mystery in this book. Look forward to the next one.
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Great writing with a unique concept. The ending was thrown together as though the author had gotten tired of being creative and just wanted to wrap up the book.
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Marsha66 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoy this series! Very good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great conict and nice characterization done by the author. Ending was quite unclear although read my times. 4.5/5
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