Evil hovers over the kingdom of Sherbourne as its dying queen summons her children to her bedside for the last time. She gives her son Adin and his twin sister Aletha matching lockets, inscribed with mysterious words written in a lost language.
The next day, a strange man emerges from the shadows of the royal garden to offer comfort–and an incredible message: “Your mother lives!”
The twins aren’t sure how to interpret this, but they press on with their lives and try to cope with the grief of their mother’s passing. Their father the King descends into depression and a dark obsession with capturing exotic beasts. Adin, rejected by his father because of his crippling physical deformities, decides to make one last effort to prove himself and save his crumbling family. He sets off on a quest to find the legendary Firebird, a magical creature that is the focus of the King’s obsession.
He hasn’t traveled far before he’s detoured onto another quest, a dangerous journey across time and space that may hold the answer to the mystery surrounding his mother’s death–and to unlocking the sinister curse that holds Sherbourne in its grip. Aletha discovers her brother’s disappearance and is drawn into a quest of her own–for her destiny, and Adin’s, and the past, present, and future of the kingdom of Sherbourne, are woven together in a way no one could ever have imagined.
And it all begins with a talking pig.
The Map Across Time, the second book in C.S. Lakin’s The Gates of Heaven series, is an epic fantasy much broader in scope than the first volume, The Wolf of Tebron, which I reviewed here a few months ago. It’s a beautifully-written story full of warmth, joy, hope, and courage.
There is Judeo-Christian allegory here, but as in The Wolf of Tebron, it’s better experienced and absorbed via the storytelling than by detailed analysis. Some obvious connections are made with the wisdom literature of the Bible, particularly Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and the story is sprinkled with epigrams from those sources. The ancient language of Sherbourne, imbued with a magical power all its own, is derived from ancient Hebrew.
As the title of the book implies, Adin’s and Aletha’s quests involve time travel, and I thought Ms. Lakin did a good job negotiating the inevitable twists and paradoxes that accumulate with each trip backward or forward in time. She uses the final paradox to good advantage as an illustration that “happily ever after” doesn’t necessarily mean getting everything we’ve ever wanted. Actions that seem unimportant become pivotal to the ultimate success of Adin’s and Aletha’s quests, a powerful reminder that the journey is just as important, if not more so, than the destination. Although noble actions and wise choices are rewarded in the end, notably after perseverance through extreme hardship, our heroes still must make sacrifices along the way. Even in well-doing, there is a cost, and it is not insignificant.
There is plenty of conflict in The Map Across Time, but there are few physical battles. This story is about seeking and finding, and the real battles are fought within the hearts and minds of our heroes. The forces of evil are subtle and disguised, and the effects of their machinations are not immediately apparent. Allies of good are not always obvious and often much more engaged and active than they appear to be. Adin must grapple with his own feelings of insignificance and inferiority as well as the physical limitations of his painful handicaps.
I’ve quibbled before about whether these stories are fairy tales, and while there are certainly elements of that sort of storytelling here, with some clear nods to classic folktales, The Map Across Time reads even more like a conventional fantasy with modern sensibilities than did The Wolf of Tebron. Some themes are similar–the power of love, the importance of family, redemption and reconciliation, and the getting of wisdom, but in this story, Lakin also wrestles with the meaning of destiny, how our fate is shaped by the choices we make, and how the call to service is intertwined with the preparation to fulfill it. Where The Wolf of Tebron was more focused on the relationships between husband and wife, and father and son, The Map Across Time portrays a strong, loving, mutually-protective relationship between brother and sister, and this relationship is the engine that drives the story.
I enjoyed The Map Across Time very much and would recommend it to anyone looking for an absorbing fantasy adventure. It would be a fine choice for family reading around the fireplace. I look forward to the next volume in The Gates of Heaven series.
>>This review is based upon an advance review copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<