The Crystal Skull

The Crystal Skull

3.5 14
by Manda Scott

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In a spellbinding blend of history, myth, and science, bestselling novelist Manda Scott unleashes a thriller that sweeps from the secrets of the Mayans to the court of a sixteenth-century queen to a shattering end-times prophecy.

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



In a spellbinding blend of history, myth, and science, bestselling novelist Manda Scott unleashes a thriller that sweeps from the secrets of the Mayans to the court of a sixteenth-century queen to a shattering end-times prophecy.

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 blue crystal skull made by the Maya to save the world from ruin; a sapphire so perfect, so powerful that for centuries men have killed to own or destroy it.

Ancient prophecies say that if the thirteen skulls already in existence are not reunited, the world will end on December 21, 2012. Cedric Owen, the skull’s last Keeper, died so that it might keep its secret for the next four centuries. Now Stella Cody has found it, and someone has already tried to kill her. Like Owen, she’s being hunted—but by whom?

Desperate to unravel the mystery of the crystal skull, Stella must decode Cedric Owen’s coded writings, sketches and ciphers no scholar has been able to unravel. What she discovers is astounding: a shocking secret prophecy…and the staggering puzzle of four terrifying creatures, thirteen precious stones, and what will happen if Cedric Owen’s crystal skull falls into the wrong hands. But time is against Stella. She has only days—hours—left to uncover the only secret that may yet save the world.

The date is set. Time is running out.
The end of the world starts now.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Edgar nominee Scott (No Good Deed) mixes adventure, supernatural phenomena and cryptography to create a fast-paced supernatural thriller. Mayan apocalyptic astronomical documents chillingly predict that the world will end on December 21, 2012, unless 13 crystal skulls are reunited. Cedric Owen, a 16th-century scholar and physician whose family has safeguarded one of the skulls from time unknown, struggles to unlock the jewel's secrets and arrange for its safety. Nearly five centuries later, newlyweds Stella Cody and Kit O'Connor unlock Owen's cipher and track the skull to its hiding place, only to find themselves caught up in a global struggle between the keepers of the skulls and those who are determined to destroy them and bring about the end of the world. Stella and Kit's race to prevent the apocalypse turns into a life-threatening, heart-pounding battle between good and evil. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

Scott (Hen's Teeth; Boudica) has already achieved success as a suspense and Celtic historical/fantasy author. With this new work, she makes her mark with an apocalyptic thriller. The end is nigh, dated specifically, 12/21/12. Dr. Stella Cody and her new husband have a chance of stopping Armageddon but first they must find the titular crystal skull, decode Elizabethan ciphers, escape assassination attempts, determine whom they can trust, and engage in some metaphysical/New Age shenanigans. If Stella and Co. can manage all of that, the date of the Mayan prophecy will come and go without incident. Set against the backdrop of fictitious Bede's College in England, the novel moves between the present and the life of Bede's benefactor Cedric Owen in the 1500s. The guiding force behind Owen's life-from an early encounter with Nostradamus to his years in New Spain to his death in England-is his guardianship of the carved sapphire skull. Scott's extensive research, her composite histories, her inclusion of real archaeological sites, and the actual existence of crystal skulls make for a compelling adventure novel. Recommended for most popular fiction collections.
—Laura A.B. Cifelli

From the Publisher
Praise for Manda Scott’s Sunday Times bestseller Boudica novels:
“A powerful novel, alive with love, deceit, wisdom and the heroics of humanity.”–Jean Auel

“One of the boldest recent adventures in historical fiction.”–Independent

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.98(d)

Read an Excerpt


Our destiny exercises its influence over us even when, as yet, we have not learned its nature: it is our future that lays down the law of our today.
—Friedrich Nietzsche


BECAUSE IT WAS HER wedding gift, Stella came out of the tunnel first. Filthy, wet and shivering hot-cold from the effort of the last fifty-metre uphill haul, she crawled on her belly, pulling herself facedown into the empty blackness beyond.

She moved slowly, keeping taut the umbilical line that linked her to Kit, feeling with her hands for the quality of the footing, then shuffling forward no farther than the spilled light from her head-torch.

Like the tunnel, the cave was of chalk. Her gloved hands pressed on stone washed smooth by century upon patient century of water. Her torch revealed bright trickles of damp everywhere, washing over flat, undulating limestone. Beyond the splash of yellow light was unknown territory, unmapped, unexplored, as likely to be a ledge and a bottomless fall as a flat cave floor.

With cold-stiff fingers, she established safety, set a bolt into the wall by the mouth of the tunnel, clipped into it and tugged the rope to let Kit know that she had stopped and not to pay out more rope. By the light of her head-lamp, she checked her compass and her watch, then marked the incline and her estimate of its length and direction with wax pencil on the chart she kept in her chest pocket, where it would not snag on tunnel walls.

Only after she had done all these things did she turn and look up and round, and send the thread of her torch into the vast, cathedral space Kit had found for her.

"My God . . . Kit, come and look."

She spoke to herself; he was too far back to hear. She tugged twice on the rope, saying the same thing, and felt the single answering twitch and then sudden slack as he began to move towards her.

Her hands coiled rope as a habit, without any conscious thought. Switching off her head-lamp, Stella stood in the roaring silence and let Kit's gift stand still in all its vast, black perfection around her, so that she could remember it for the rest of her life.

Marriage is fine for the rest of the world, but I want to find you a present that will last us forever, Stell, something to remember when the magic of now has grown to quiet domesticity. What is it in the world that you want most, dearest, that will let you love me for eternity?

He had said it in Cambridge, in his River Room, high above the Cam, with the river running glassy green below, on the morning before they had gone to the registrar with their two witnesses and made themselves legal in the eyes of the world.

She had known him little more than a year; he the Bede's scholar to the depths of his bones, she the Yorkshire lass with a degree from a metropolitan university who knew nothing of the ivory towers. Between these two poles, they had somehow found a meeting of minds. That had carried them, in fourteen dizzying months, from discussions on string theory to marriage.

Then, at peace with herself and the world, there was nothing she wanted from Kit that he had not given, but it was a beautiful day and she was thinking of rock and how little of it there was in the flat fenlands of Cambridge.

"Find me a cave," she had answered him, without thinking particularly, "a cave no-one else has ever seen. For that, I will love you for ever."

He had come to kneel by the bed, to a place where his complex green-brown eyes could see and be seen. His eyes were quiet then, more hazel than emerald, with hints of leafiness and summer. He had kissed her and smiled his driest, most knowing smile, and said, "What if I were to find you a cave with buried treasure that no-one has entered for four hundred and nineteen years? Would that be almost as good?"

"Four hundred and nineteen . . .?" She had sat up, fast, too fast for the heat of the day.

Always, he surprised her; it was why she was going to marry him. "You've found Cedric Owen's cave? The cathedral of the earth? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I wanted to be sure, Stella."

"And are you now?"

"As sure as I can be without going there to look. It's all in the cipher in the ledgers: the hanging thorns, the curve of the bow, the falling river. It had to be somewhere Owen knew like the back of his hand and the only place is Ingleborough Hill up in Yorkshire. He was born on the side of it. The thorns are gone by now but I found references to them in an old diary and there's a river that falls into Gaping Ghyll."

"Gaping Ghyll? Kit, that's the deepest pothole in England. The cave system running out from it goes for miles."

"It does indeed. And there are bits of it that haven't been explored yet, possibly a cathedral of the earth that no-one has been in since Cedric Owen wrote his poem four centuries ago.

"Would you like to go, as our present to each other? To find the cave and search out the white water and dive for the hidden pearl entombed therein?"

Stella had known instantly that the gift was for him as much as for her. Cedric Owen's blue heart-stone was Kit's life's love, his project, his grail forever quested for as long as she had known him; the great treasure of his college that had been sought by the high and mighty down the ages but never found.

They had not known where to look, the great and the good. They had not read between the lines for the hidden words and phrases as Kit had. It was his greatest accomplishment, and his greatest secret; by marrying him, she became a part of it.

Even so . . . she wrinkled her brow and looked out of the window at the sandstone library and great lawned courts of Bede's College, with their five hundred years of tending and all the legends that went with them. She had learned those, too. "I thought the skull killed all those who ever held it?"

Kit had laughed and slid his part-dressed body over the top of hers and said, "Only if they fell into the sins of lust and avarice. We won't do that."

They were close then, eye to eye, nose to nose, heartbeat to heartbeat, sharing each breath. She had held the weight of him balanced on the palms of her hands and looked up into the measure of his face and, quite truthfully, said, "I could fall into lust for the first descent of an undiscovered cave. You can't begin to imagine what kind of a gift that would be."

"But I can. You're a caver; it means to you what finding Owen's heart-stone would mean to me. It's why we can do it, you and me, bravely and together. Then we can tell the world what we have found."

She was the caver; hers the responsibility to bring the dream to reality. Which was why she had persisted after she found the rockfall that blocked their route, and why, when she had discovered an opening that might lead to where they wanted to go, she had been the one to go first along the long, claustrophobic tunnel, where she had to become a snake, and then an eel, and then a worm in order to bend round the corners and slide under the overhangs and creep, inch by pulling inch, up fifty metres of a one-in-ten incline that brought her at last to the exit and the cavern beyond.

The rope went tight in her hands and then slack again as Kit rounded the final bend. She switched on her head-torch, to give him something to aim for.

Like a flickering film, her beam picked out random lengths of stalactites and stalagmites, closing like sharks' teeth from floor to roof and back again. She eased the camera from the lid of her pack. Then, turning a full half-circle, she took serial shots from floor to roof and roof to floor.

The camera's flash reached out and splashed colour across the rising, falling calcite, drew rainbows from the constant sheen of water, sprinkled brilliant, living diamonds across the roof at each crack and angle of the rock.

She took pictures for the sheer joy of it, revelling in the beauty. Only as Kit was easing out of the tunnel to stand beside her did she follow at last the thunderous noise and turn west, to shed light on the cascading torrent of the waterfall.

"My God . . ."

"The cathedral of the earth. You clever, clever girl. I thought that rockfall had finished us."

She was no longer alone. Kit's voice warmed her ear. Kit's arm wrapped her waist, immersing her in bittersweet joy; it was always hard to relinquish the purity of solitude, and yet, out of all the world, this one man understood her need for black aloneness and did not fear it.

She leaned in to him, dry-suit to dry-suit, and turned her light up to his face. Encircled by black neoprene, he was both filthy and euphoric; a man on the brink of a promise.

She said, "I don't think Cedric Owen knew about this route; you'd never get a Tudor physician in doublet and tights along that tunnel."

"Nor any sane man, without his ladylove to guide him." Kit twirled a knightly bow and blew her a kiss. "Mrs. O'Connor, I adore you and everything there is of you, but I can't kiss you with a head-torch on."

Laughing, she snatched the flying blessing from the air. "That's Dr. Cody, until it becomes Professor Cody, and don't you ever forget it." They had been wed for little over forty-eight hours. Already the argument was old and private between them; in public there was never a chance he would steal her name.

She said, "Have you a flare? It'd be good to see it all properly."

"I have." He was already rummaging in his pack. "And then we have to find out where Owen came in when he walked the easy route. I'm rather hoping there's an obvious way out. I really don't want to have to do that second hairpin in reverse. Going down and then up and trying to turn at the same time wouldn't be any fun at all."

"But not impossible. Just remember that." Once, she had been caught in a cave where the way in was not a possible way out. She dreamed of it still, on the bad nights, when life pressed too close. "Light the flare. Let's see all that we haven't seen yet."

"Ask and it shall be given." Kit locked the flare in a cleft high up where he could reach and she could not; six inches' extra height was good for some things and bad for others. "Stand back."

He lit the flare with his hand covering his face, as she had taught him, and stepped back before the magnesium fully lit.


Blistering incandescence spilled from the cavern wall. Under its light, the stalagmites were virgin snow, the waterfall was a cascade of living ice. Beyond all the jagged sharks' teeth, the cave's roof was finally visible, a greying white limestone arch halfway to the heavens.

"How high is it, do you think?" Kit asked. His question was almost lost in the rush and thunder of the waterfall.

"A hundred metres? Maybe a bit more. We could climb one of the walls and find out, if you're feeling keen."

"Am I ever keen to lift my feet off the ground if I don't have to?" He grinned weakly. "I'd rather find the skull."

He leaned back on the wall, bit his glove off one hand, delved into the hidden pockets of his backpack, and came out with the precious folded paper, the print of Cedric Owen's cipher, the pinnacle of three years' work.

" 'That which you seek lies hidden in white water.' The waterfall is white."

"And the water is full of lime scale, which is another form of white. Read me again the bit that comes after having the courage to go forward?"

He was a poet at heart, for all that he buried his brain in hexadecimal code and computer languages. He turned so that the flare cast his shadow behind him and read aloud:

"Enter with courage. Go forward as far as the dark allows. Step through night's arch and come at last to the cathedral of the earth. Face the rising of the sun, and its setting, pierce the curtain to the well of living water and discover at last the pearl there entombed."

He lowered the paper. Softly, he said, "Stella, we have come at last to the cathedral of the earth."

"We have. So next we have to face the rising and setting sun. But we didn't step through night's arch to get here—we crawled through a tunnel that wasn't there before half a ton of rock fell into the route Cedric Owen took. We need to find out where he came in before we can work out where he went next."

Stella stood at the margins of the magnesium white and turned in a slow circle. Her head-lamp cut a horizontal line along the wall, cutting through stalactites, snagging on outcrops, falling into a tall slice of darkness.


She ran to it, soft-footed on wet rock. The arch was more of a cleft, jaggedly asymmetric, higher than her upstretched hands, broader than her arm-span. She followed the dark space cautiously, rounding a bend, moving into a narrower passageway.

"Stell?" Kit was at the entrance, peering in.

She shouted back to him, cupping her hands against the echo. "This is it. The rockfall's up ahead. It must be at least twenty metres thick, Kit. Our crawl-tunnel looped out and round to come out farther along the cavern's wall." She reversed back towards him, playing her torch over the passage walls. Here and there were smudges of colour that barely held her torchlight.

"I think there are cave paintings on the wall." She could hear the awe in her own voice. "We're going to have to tell people about this."

She backed out, into the cavern, to the place where there was light enough to see, to look around, to search the high walls for other signs of ancient life.

"God, Kit . . . I take it all back. There are better things than finding a cave no-one has ever been in." She grinned at him, stupidly, her blood fizzing in her veins.


Meet the Author

Manda Scott is a veterinary surgeon, writer and climber. Born and educated in Scotland, she now lives in Suffolk with one horse, two lurchers and too many cats. Manda Scott first made her name as a crime writer. Her debut novel, Hen’s Teeth was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Her subsequent novels are Night Mares, Stronger than Death and No Good Deed, for which she was hailed as "one of Britain’s most important crime writers." and was nominated for an Edgar Award.

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Crystal Skull 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
san_carlos_skaterAR More than 1 year ago
The title of this book is referring to a sapphire that is carved into a skull. The skull can stop the end of the world from happening. Historical happenings and end of the world were predicted by the Mayans, Nostradamus, and lots of other people in history. My favorite chapter is chapter 6. I like this chapter because it brings you back in history to one of the main characters, before he was dead. Cedric Owen was a professor who discovered the big cave where the crystal skull was hidden. I thought what the author did with quotes was cool. At the beginning of each chapter she put in a quote from one of the people who foretold the future, like Nostradamus. I also liked how she switched back and forth between current time and ancient time. At the beginning of each chapter there is a heading that tells you the date the chapter is set in. This book is really good. There was nothing in it that I didn't like. I think this book is appropriate for age 15 through adult. I really liked this book because it has a blend of history, mystery and mythology and science.
dalnewt More than 1 year ago
This book follows two story lines. The first is a somewhat frustrating read about an unsympathetic professor who, with the help of her professor husband, finds a crystal skull (know as the blue 'heartstone') originally kept by Cedric Owen, the benefactor of a fictitious Bede College in Cambridge. She becomes the skull's keeper and is plagued by an amorphous 'hunter'. With assistance from her husband and scholarly allies, she deciphers a code hidden within Cedric's journals. The other parallel story is an engaging historical tale of Cedric Owen who inherits the skull in the 16th century and is advised by Nostradamus to sail to the New World to uncover its mystery. Cedric befriends and forms a lifelong bond with a very likable Spanish captain/swordsman along the way. The mystical premise of both stories, (that the skull supernaturally influences its caretaker and will somehow save the world), is credible as told within the historical context but becomes somewhat ridiculous and strained within a contemporary setting. Furthermore, the skull's method of preventing Armageddon is never satisfactorily explained rendering the conclusion anticlimactic and unsatisfactory. If you like mystical mysteries which are left slightly unresolved at book's end then perhaps you'll like this tale. If not, I suggest you skip it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is correct in all it's research but doesn't read dry or in text form. This is in novel form and i truly enjoyed it. Very interesting and very hard to put down. An world wide fascinating subject.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Her new husband Cambridge Professor Kit O¿Connor gives his wife expert speleologist Stella Cody the perfect marriage present. The professor provides her with the sixteenth century work of Cedric Owen who in his poetry says he hid an ancient powerful artifact in the Gaping Ghyll, England¿s deepest known pothole. The newlyweds spend their honeymoon digging in dirt inside the Yorkshire cave until Stella finds the incredible sapphire skull. --- They soon realize others want the skull and will do anything including murder to obtain it Kit gets hurt while they escape. Stella learns more about the skull yet understands less as conflicting information surfaces. It appears that it is one of thirteen that need to merge to avoid Armageddon as prophesized by the Mayans which will occur on 12/12/12 or perhaps it needs to be destroyed at the right time in the right place to avoid the 12/12/12 end of the world then again maybe doing something with it leads to 12/12/12/12 Armageddon. --- Based on a crystal skull in the British Museum, Manda Scott provides an action-packed fast-paced tale. The story line mostly focuses on the mdoern day countdown, but also has interesting interudes to the Elziabethian Era travels of Owens to Zama in the Mayan Empire. Readers will appreciate this end of the world thriller so Brownian yet so different as even seemingly loving Kit is under supsicon by the bewildered heroine who is unsure what she should do next as any error could mean Arageddon. --- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leopardpaw Stonepaw Swiftpaw :)
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Hawkeyefan More than 1 year ago
This book lacked substance in about every different aspect. The book had promise at the beginning but faded quickly. My goal of never giving up on a book was tested and I spent the last half just trying to finish it. It was nothing of what I thought it would be like. Maybe that was my mistake and why I didn't enjoy the book.
twigtip More than 1 year ago
Despite a lot of interesting elements and some historical research, this unthrilling "thriller" takes uninteresting characters on what should be interesting adventures in two different time periods. This book lost me when a blue rock starts "screaming" in the minds of the protagonists. Please.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dull, boring, and slow are adjectives that can be used to decribe this book. With the the interest in "end of the world" stories and the December 2012 Mayan calendar end cycle date, there was certainly the potential for an exciting action packed story. Not this book. The story plodded along, the characters were stereotypical and cardboard, and the action sequences were dull and poorly structured. To give one an idea of how poorly this story is constructed, the primary mechanism to move the plot along is "feelings" the crystal skull caused some of the main characters to experience. The book needed significant editing and some chapters needed to be completely re-written. The ending was a major disappointment, especially after having suffered through such a slow moving story. The only reason I made it through the book is that is was the only reading material I had on a very long airplane ride. Lee Child's cover quote that uses the word "scary" can't possibly refer to this book. Perhaps he was referring to the reading experience itself. Ms. Scott attempts to use Nostradamus and the so-called Mayan prophecies around which to build a story, but the book is poorly researched and lacks sufficient interesting historical substance to make the book entertaining. Did I mention the word "boring"? James Rollins, Steve Berry, and Dan Brown all do this type of genre much better. Stay away from "The Crystal Skull" and try one of these other writers for a rewarding read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An Enjoyable read.