The explanation? Ley lines, portals of travel between alternate times and realities. Kit's great-grandfather, Cosimo, accidentally stumbled upon them long ago, and traverses them as part of a society of "Questers", all after the elusive "Skin Map."
What is the Skin Map? The original discoverer of the lines, Arthur Flinders-Petrie, had the map detailing the lines and their destinations tattooed on his torso, and the map survived his death. Now Cosimo and his friends want to find the map to help them become better travelers, and to keep it out of the hands of those who would abuse the power.
But now, Wilhelmina is lost somewhere in the myriad of alternate worlds, and evil forces are following the Questers at every turn. Can Kit master the art of the ley lines in time to find his girlfriend and rescue his great-grandfather when disaster falls? And who will gain access to the secrets of the Skin Map?
I had a hard time getting into this book. It starts out with a somewhat boring protagonist, who has an even more boring girlfriend, and I didn't care all that much what happened to them at first. However, as time went on they both grew on me, and by the end I cared a lot more about them both. The abrupt ending was frustrating, but left me wanting to know what was going to happen next.
Lawhead does a good job with the complex strands of the story -- a really admirable job. The novel takes place in various different locations, timeframes, and realities, with multiple characters' points of view. There were still a few parts that confused me a little, especially when he went back in time with characters, but I was able to follow it fairly well.
While the story was interesting, enough to make me interested in reading more, it never fully gripped me... it never quite got to the point where I just couldn't put it down. I wondered enough to keep turning pages, but it never did quite grab my heart the way I was hoping. I'm not sure why this is, unless it was a rather mild arc for the main character, or the complex and frequently changing story, or both. The story was also capricious and slow-moving in places, while interesting and suspenseful in others, leaving me a little unsure how to take the book--is it suspense? A quirky time-travel story? It was a bit too dark to be pure fun, but not dark enough to be an all-out thriller, so I guess I never quite figured out what it was.
The prose was excellent. Lawhead's descriptions, especially of locations, are beautifully written and a very good level of detail. His dialogue is fairly good also, though it could use a bit more character in places. Overall, his style is vivid and immerses you in each world without confusion or extra work on the part of the reader, which was enjoyable.
As for content, the book is fairly clean. There are a few uses of the word "bloody" and "ass," but no other language. There's some drinking, which reaches drunkenness a few times. Perhaps most concerning was the small amount of graphic violence/pain. The pain of a character getting a tattoo is described in great detail. In one scene, which disturbed me very much, a villain starts to try to attain the map by cutting the skin off of Flinders-Petrie's live body. These kinds of things are very few, but are uncomfortably graphic when they appear.
The only other concerning aspect is the fact that the idea of "ley lines" is primarily a New Age idea, and New Agers' involvement in the idea is mentioned a few times in the story. Lawhead first heard about it from New Agers, and while he treats it as a purely scientific phenomenon, some might be bothered by its ties to mysticism. While the book is not explicitly Christian, there are a few secondary characters with strong faith in God who talk about it freely and frequently.
Overall, The Skin Map is an interesting book. It was a little hard to grasp, but enjoyable enough that I'll look forward to reading the second one and seeing if it does a better job of pulling me into the adventure.