Kit and the gang are determined to find a path back to the Spirit Well but when one of their own disappears with the coveted green book, they no longer know who to trust. Meanwhile the expansion of the universe is slowing and soon will begin to reverse, heralding the systematic annihilation of all that exists. . .
Good Reading Guide Review
The fourth installment of Stephen Lawhead’s time-traveling, cosmogonic thriller series Bright Empires is a prelude to The Fatal Tree, which will be released in 2014. As the second-to-last of its series, it feels more like a placeholder than an episode, reuniting many of the lost and dispersed characters and separating some again, and more than all of the previous books combined, specifying the cosmological and specifically Christian elements at the heart of its conflict. With the skin map located and the ley-based form of dimensional travel firmly established, the story itself has replaced the emphasis on world-building. As a result, The Shadow Lamp is about making things clear—about setting the narrative stage—before the ultimate showdown of the next book.
The secretive Zetetic Society plays a much larger part in The Shadow Lamp than in previous installments, especially in the final chapter, which showcases the dropping of a tea tray as a brilliant, extended metaphor to represent the destruction of the omniverse. The sequence is, without a doubt, the series’ best literary performance to date, and concludes the research and revelations which make the series explicitly Christian. As the priest astronomer Gianni explains earlier in the book:
“We believe that the universe was created in order to produce conscious agents who can share in the apprehension and appreciation of divine goodness, which is the nature of God; divine beauty, which is the delight of God; and divine truth, which is the wisdom of God. Further, we believe that the purpose of the universe in bringing about independent conscious agents is directed towards the ultimate aim of uniting all creation with the divine Life.”
Bright Empire’s newly robust emphasis on faith and theology in The Spirit Lamp is well complemented by an essay of Lawhead’s, which is attached to the end of the narrative proper. It considers the openness of the modern Catholic Church to scientific inquiry, vis-à-vis the scientism of the New Atheists and the pseudo-science of Creationist Fundamentalism, and serves as a solid anchor point for the series’ specific cosmology.
As a read, The Shadow Lamp retains the comfortable depth of the previous titles, including a lot of eating and drinking and fellowship, particularly in Wilhelmina’s Kaffeehaus. It is a more violent title than its predecessors, however, involving assaults and battles; three scenes—flashflooding in Egypt, a ship battle near Gibraltar, and a slaughter in Roman times—seem extremely protracted, but surge every now and again into poetic description. Readers of the series will be left tantalized, especially with so much left on the characters’ shoulders.