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The Crystal Skull    by Manda Scott order for
Crystal Skull
by Manda Scott
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Crystal Skull is a departure for Manda Scott, author of the Kellen Stewart mysteries, gritty thrillers like No Good Deed, and the brilliant Boudica series set in Roman Britain. Now she's joined the ranks of authors like Dan Brown in writing a thriller with nonstop, sprinting action and a mystical theme, rooted deep in human history.

Scott gives readers parallel storylines. In the modern one, newlyweds Stella Cody (an astronomer and expert caver) and Bede's scholar Kit O'Connor explore an undiscovered (for over four centuries) cave system, 'the cathedral of the earth', as his wedding gift to her. Kit had found the key to its location in enciphered ledgers, part of his research into the life of Bede's College professor Cedric Owen. Owen was believed to have possessed a blue heart-stone, a crystal skull of enormous power. Along with the cavern, they discover a skeleton, a pendant and - after a very dangerous dive by Stella - the heart-stone. But someone underground with them wants the treasure and will kill to possess it.

Back in 1556 Cambridge, we meet Cedric Owen, the skull's last Keeper, a Tudor physician, and a professor at Bede's College. Fleeing from potential accusations of heresy (with colleagues already burned at the stake) he travels to Paris where Nostredamus tells him that his stone is one of thirteen created after the flood destroyed Atlantis. Separated, they have been held in trust around the world by a lineage of keepers ever since 'until such time as all are needed to avert the catastrophe that man will wreak on God's earth.' The Maya predicted that if these thirteen skulls are not reunited, the world will end on December 21, 2012. Unlikely? As one character comments, 'It's pretty much a moot point now as to whether we pollute ourselves out of existence with the by-products of our overconsumption or blow ourselves to toxic fragments in the wars over the last few tankers of black gold.'

Cedric is assigned three tasks as his life's work - 'to find the wisdom of the heart-stone, to record it in such a way that it can never be lost again' and to 'hide the stone so that none might come across it by chance or ill design until the end times are near.' Readers accompany Cedric as his quest takes him - along with Spanish sea captain Fernandez de Aguilar - to the land of the Maya and back again (decades later) to Elizabethan England. In the parallel modern day story, Stella and others work to understand the skull's purpose, despite constant attacks from the agents of a force that feeds on 'death and destruction, fear and pain, and wishes these things to continue into the nadir of Armageddon.' As Stella becomes more and more closely linked to the crystal skull and violence engulfs those close to her, she wonders who she can trust, with the fate of the world at stake.

As the story builds to a powerful conclusion, linking plot strands across time, a surprising villain is revealed, and a friend of Kit's comments that 'Every mass grave I've ever exhumed has been dug by someone who's crossed the line to a place where the end justifies the means; where one person's life, or ten, or a thousand, is a fair price for what they believe is right.' I highly recommend The Crystal Skull to you as an absorbing, intelligent end-times thriller that offers substantive food for thought.

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