The Shadow Lamp is the fourth entry in author Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series and takes up where the third book, The Spirit Well, ended. Once again we are reintroduced to each of the main characters as they move around from place to place and era to era in the multiverse using the connecting pathways known as leys. There are three different factions that make up the story. The first group are the members of the so-called Zetetic Society, a benevolent group of explorers who are seeking to protect the secrets of "time travel" from those of darker intentions. At the same time they are also trying to make sense of the cosmic mysteries of the different parallel universes into which they are moving in and through. Much of what they know had its genesis through the man who first carried out extensive studies of ley travel, one Arthur Flinders-Petrie, the man who created the "skin map". This group includes Kit, Mina, Gianni, and Cass. The second group includes the nefarious Earl Archalaeous Burleigh (and his group of ne'er-do-well minions), who has been using any and all means at his disposal to claim the complete skin map for himself. However, it is far from clear if he understands what he expects to find at the end of his quest. Certainly he cannot even begin to comprehend the Pandora's box that he is seeking with such blind ambition. Finally, we follow the descendants of Arthur Flinders-Petrie (his grandson and great grandson) as each tries to figure out the secrets that old Arthur took to the grave with him.
In this part of the story, the plot significantly advances and we start to get a sense of what is at stake and what The Zetetic Society was formed to protect, even if they didn't fully appreciate their charge until now. Slowly a hard reality is beginning to come into focus. In fact, if what they suspect is true, the very future of the Universe is at stake. It is possible that something that the great Arthur Flinders-Petrie did in a desperate act of love set an irreversible course into motion? Is there anything that can be done to arrest the cataclysm? Is there enough time or is the die cast? The story will come to its conclusion in the fifth and final entry of the series, The Fatal Tree, set for publication in 2014. Another wonderful story from one of my favorite authors. I look forward to seeing how Lawhead brings this one home.