The Fatal Tree by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2014)
This is the final book in Lawhead's Bright Empires series, of which the first four were The Skin Map, The Bone House, The Spirit Well, and The Shadow Lamp. I enjoyed reading The Fatal Tree, which only took me a few hours, but was nonetheless disappointed. As with my experience reading the Harry Potter books, this series got better and better for the first three books, then largely fell apart.
The premise—combining the concept of ley lines with quantum physics and multiverse theory—is brilliant, as are many of the ways the author works the concepts out in the lives of his characters. I wish the last two books had fulfilled the promise of the first three. The confusion of so many characters from many times and places, and the dizzying way the book jumps around, enhance the story in the early books, mimicking the confusion of ley travel and multiple universes, but sadly the last book does not draw all the threads into a coherent whole. Rather, it feels hasty and incomplete.
What's more, Lawhead is a Christian writer, and where his faith is kept in the backgound it adds depth and beauty to the stories. Unfortunately, when it becomes explicit, as in the last two books, it feels forced and awkward.
I still recommend the Bright Empires series, because Lawhead had a wonderful idea and worked it out in some very clever ways. I'd rank it well below The Lord of the Rings but well above Harry Potter. It's just a pity that Lawhead, like J. K. Rowling, stopped at good when he could have reached great.