I’ve got a long-overdue review to share with you, and a giveaway!
Title: The Fatal Tree (Bright Empires, #5)
Author: Stephen R. Lawhead
- Date read: May 18, 2017
- Rating: 5 stars
- Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy / Sci-Fi / Time / Christian / Contemporary
- Age: YA and up
- Year pub: 2014
- Pages: 340 (hardcover)
- Series: The Bright Empires, #5 (final one!)
- Fave character: All of them. ❤
- Source: Amazon
- Notes: Definitely be sure to start with book 1, The Skin Map.
- Links: Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble • Author’s Website
Review of The Fatal Tree
In the immortal words of Bilbo Baggins (at least in a certain film), “I’ve put this off for far too long.”
I was waiting for the right words, but I’ve realized that there’s simply no way to do justice to this book in a review, and so instead of waiting for a time that will never come, I’m simply going to say something about it, even if it’s not enough.
You see, the Bright Empire series (of which The Fatal Tree is the fifth and final book) meant so much to me that I can’t quite put it into words.
I enjoyed it, loved it, and it had a profound influence and effect on me. The series worked its way into a deep part of me that makes it hard to get at to explain. I’m not sure if you’ve had this experience, but sometimes you read something that becomes a part of you. It changes you. And so you can’t really talk about it—not really, not in a way that could explain to anyone why it happened to reach you at that soul level, because if it didn’t do the same for them, then they just won’t understand. And that’s all right, because every book affects people differently, if at all. It just makes it difficult to explain.
So it’s seems silly to attempt it, and I won’t try, but I will say that this series is a part of me, like several other book milestones along the way through my younger life—I won’t go through those here. It’s enough a part of me that I don’t really think about it, but it is and it’s there.
So here are a few things about the series that made it something special, at least for this literary traveler.
For one thing, there’s Mina. She was the first female role-model I’d met in a book since I was very young. I want to be her. (More on that in My Tower of Fantasy.) Heroines never interest me in fiction much; I don’t know why, but I’m usually more drawn to the heroes. So Mina was something new and different. She showed me it was possible to do oh-so-many things. She’s the bravest character I’ve ever read about, but she started as a stressed, tired young woman from our modern days. Literally plucked out of her life and thrust into another one, she refuses to give in and transforms her situation into something incredible. She is clever and heroic and rather more brave than I think I’d ever be, but she is so incredibly loving and steady too, and she shines. She makes a way in the world, and is loyal to her friends, and capable, and an entrepreneur, ready to try new things whether in a bakery or fearlessly treading the roads between worlds, but she’s still human and shows that it’s okay to wish you could be home taking a hot shower to avoid the world at times. And, I mean, who wouldn’t want to go visit her and Etzel’s joint Kaffeehaus in 1600s Prague? It’s the most amazing place! I think what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t really have role-models in fiction, and that we need those. I’ve had plenty of fictional heroes, and I needed those too, and I had Eilonwy and Princess Irene and Eowyn and others, but I hadn’t met a modern heroine I could look up to, and I think in a rush to write “realistic” characters (read: dull and flawed, or fake and artificially “strong”), people just don’t write truly heroic characters anymore. Not the ones who can actually be looked up to, and show a blueprint of what might be, and meet me where I am and inspire me and show me that I can be something more and do things. I won’t ramble on about her more than that, but Mina is one of the best things that ever happened to me.
The series also firmly embedded into my mind that whole “there are no coincidences” thing, which as much as I always knew in theory I didn’t really believe if you know what I mean, until reading this fascinating series. If there’s one thing I took away from these books, it was that, and I adore it.
Then there’s how I’ll run across things in life, or in other literature, or in a song, or history, and I’ll see it echoing back to this series—whether it’s a name, or a place, or something else—and I’ll go “Aha! It’s like Bright Empires!” and I’ll do a little dance of intrigued joy. (For example, I stumbled across a translation of a Welsh song called Adra (Home) by Gwyneth Glyn and it so strongly fit this series I thought “What a coincidence! Oh, that can’t be right . . .” ;)) Aside from simply being great fun to find things in life that remind me of a beloved series, it opened up a whole new world to me—and how could it not, with such a broad canvas of times, places, people, and thoughts painted together with such intricacy and skill?
And also with beloved characters and humor and enjoyment, because that’s the important bit that makes the rest stick in your mind. Because there’s the thing: you can have the most interesting or enlightening book in the world, but if it’s not fun, it’s not going to stick with you—or with me, at any rate. And you can have an enjoyable story, but how much more enjoyable is it if, amidst the fun, it stretches your mind far afield and shows you a whole new world and makes you think? I love how this series did all of those things for me, and all in a mind-bending, genre-defying, completely new sort of way.
But aren’t you going to talk about this book, not just the series, then? you ask.
Oh, very well.
I see the series as a whole and so I don’t have terribly much to say specifically about the final book, other than as the end of a saga. (Especially not without massive spoilers, which nobody wants because you must discover them on your own when you read the books; and you ARE GOING TO, right? *stern but loving look*) But there are a few things, so I’ll mention them.
I don’t know how I feel about a few things that happened, and at least at one point I wished that some of the characters could have come in at the end with the others and they didn’t—but then I realized that they were perfect where they are. Several pairs of people are THE MOST ADORABLE THING. (I’m sorry, I’m a romantic. XD)
Familiar places (like Black Mixen Tump) swirl back into the story, and continue to be fascinating. Desert sand in Egypt to frozen ice and the Stone Age, with Prague and Constantinople and all the rest in between. I love the richness of all the different countries and times we get to visit in this series, and how vivid they are (even if some can get downright frightening!), and especially the good hearts of many of the people we meet. Everything’s so genuine, laced with a thread of nobleness and light.
I still adore all of the characters, fiercely. Mina, Kit, Etzel, Cass, Giles, Tony, Haven, Gianni, the members of the Zetetic Society, and all the rest. They’re my friends now. ^_^ I was so delighted to get to finally complete their story in this book, and I absolutely love how all of their tales intertwine and fit into the book so neatly but with threads trailing afterward to the future. And I love all of their interactions SO MUCH. They make the book. 😀
Even the villains are interesting, and far from straightforward. Burleigh’s plotline is one of the two most skillful ones of its kind I’ve read in my life.
And, of course, there’s a time-related thing or two that finally happen in this book, which I’ve been waiting for since the first one. One in particular made me SO HAPPY. (Looking at you, chapter 11.) Speaking of timey-wimey things, that sort of thing always makes my head spin (in a good way) and I think I filled a couple of pieces of paper with diagrams of different people’s timelines and where and when they crossed and it was still dreadfully confusing and I love it so much. XD Someday I’m going to carve out the time to read the whole series again, and I’m looking forward to that with relish. (And maybe then I’ll finally fully understand the ending, which tied my mind in knots. :D)
Then there’s that whole having-to-save-the-world thing, what with the whole universe about to end and everything, which is as serious as it sounds and just as exciting—and there may or may not be some death in there, and I’m not saying I totally understood how everything turned out (I like a good goes-slightly-over-my-head-and-requires-a-rereading ending—just look at Diana Wynne Jones), especially with science-y things going over my head, but everything came together from the previous books and on the whole I was terribly pleased with how The Fatal Tree wrapped up the series. (I’m also so glad we got a what-happens-next bit at the end too! *collapses*)
It was an experience, and one it’s taken me nearly two years to get around to finally externalizing and typing up in the form of a “review” (or shall we call it an essay?), but I can safely say that the Bright Empires is one of the most delightful series I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Even if only as an enjoyable adventure, I recommend them highly to anyone who cares to try their luck. Or, since there is no such thing as coincidence, let’s say that luck is the wrong word and leave it at that. 😉
I’m deeply indebted to Mr. Lawhead for penning such a—well, brilliant is the only word for it, in so many ways—series, and I look forward to delving into more of his books very soon.
(Also . . . THE SPOON. :O WHAT. DOES. IT. MEAN. I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.)
Read my reviews for the previous books in the series:
I happen to have a spare paperback copy of the first book in the series, The Skin Map, and I want to share the love!
Visit the Rafflecopter HERE for a chance to win it!
(USA addresses only. Runs 4/11/19 through 4/17/19. Winner will be contacted by email and announced here shortly after.)
[Edit: Giveaway is closed! The winner is Grace T! Thanks for entering, everyone! :)]