Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Crystall Skull by Manda Scott

"It's a lump of rock, Stella; nothing more. No stone is worth dying for."

Except it's not just a lump of rock. It's a life sized crystal skull made by the Maya to save the world from ruin; a sapphire so perfect, so powerful, that men down the ages have killed to own or destroy it.

Cedric Owen, the skull's last Keeper, died that it might keep its secret for the next four centuries. Now Stella has found it, and someone has already tried to kill her. Like the skull-keepers of old, she and her partner, Kit, are being hunted - but by whom?

The Mayan prophecies say that if the thirteen skulls already in existence are not reunited, the world will end on 21 December 2012. Four times already, life on earth has been destroyed: by flood and fire, quake and storm. The fifth age ends in a destruction of man's making, and there is only one chance to avert it.

Facing an increasingly implacable enemy, Stellla and Kit struggle to decode the Owen diaries. Their search takes them from the intellectual rigour of Cambridge University to the untamed wildness of England's prehistoric stone circles.

Both know that time is against them and they only have days - hours - left to uncover the secret that may yet save the world.

I have previously read three book by Manda Scott - all of them from the Boudica series of books set in Roman Britain and featuring a fierce warrior princess who is leading the tribes against the Roman invaders. Having enjoyed them all, I was kind of skeptical when I read the description for this book mainly because it was completely unconnected to the Boudica books with a different setting, a different genre. Just different!

As a wedding present, Kit O'Connor takes his new wife Stella Cody to a stunning underground cave where he believes he will find the famous blue crystal skull that has long been part of the legend of St Bede's College, Cambridge. Kit has managed to do what so many have failed to do before him, and that is decode the fabled ledgers that were left behind by Cedric Owen hundreds of years before. With Stella's background as a caver, Kit is sure that this time they will be able to find the skull, but what he doesn't know is what changes this will bring to their relationship and their lives.

Without knowing it, Stella has a deadline looming, and she and Kit must do everything in their power to continue to decipher the hidden messages, along with the help of their friends, and to find the instructions hidden within. One of the major issues though, is exactly who is a friend and who is a foe? Other questions to be answered include why does the skull seem to speak to her? What is it that she needs to do? And what will happen if she doesn't? Who is it that is trying to stop them?

Alternating with the story of what is happening with Kit and Stella, we also follow what is happening in the life of the aforementioned Cedric Owen. He is from a long line of family members whose job it is to be the Keeper of the Skull. It is Cedric's destiny to learn all the secrets of the skull, and to preserve them for one who comes after him. He must leave the messages in such a way that not just anyone will be able to understand, but that the right person will. Along the way Cedric meets with such luminaries from the past as Nostradamus and Dr John Dee. Gradually he learns that the skull that he has in possession (or perhaps he is in its possession given how the skull communicates and directs his life) is likely to be Mayan in origin and is one of a set that must be guarded and protected, and then placed in the exact right position at the exact time in order to stop mankind from destroying the world. The stone leads Cedric (and his companion and swordsman) from England, to France and to South America, and then back to England again many years later.

I have now read a few of these parallel storyline novels where there are the two different stories interwoven to give the whole picture usually with one set in the past and the other in the present. Quite often, I find that I enjoy one of the threads more than the other, but in this case I really didn't feel that one aspect was weaker than the other.

There is suspense and tension in both strands of the narrative - danger, thirst for knowledge and incredible personal risk. As with the Boudica books, there is an underlying mystical themes within the pages of this book. It is obvious that this kind of subject is one that fascinates Manda Scott, and yet she is able to include it in her novels without seeming to be overly evangelical about whatever it is that she believes in.

One of the major questions that this book does ask revolves around the date of 21 December 2012 - a date that apparently several cultures believe will herald the end of mankind - pretty gloomy thought really!

If you are after a very enjoyable thriller filled with suspense, mystery, history and a lot of adventure, this book is definitely worth considering.