Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow (Jake Ransom Series #1)
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Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow (Jake Ransom Series #1)

4.2 102
by James Rollins

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When a mysterious envelope arrives for Jake Ransom, he and his older sister, Kady are plunged into a gripping chain of events. An artifact found by their parents—on the expedition from which they never returned—leads Jake and Kady to a strange world inhabited by a peculiar mix of long-lost civilizations, a world that may hold the key to their parents'

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When a mysterious envelope arrives for Jake Ransom, he and his older sister, Kady are plunged into a gripping chain of events. An artifact found by their parents—on the expedition from which they never returned—leads Jake and Kady to a strange world inhabited by a peculiar mix of long-lost civilizations, a world that may hold the key to their parents' disappearance.

But even as they enter the gate to this extraordinary place, savage grackyls soar across the sky, diving to attack. Jake's new friends, the pretty Mayan girl Marika and the Roman Pindor, say the grackyls were created by an evil alchemist—the Skull King. And as Jake stuggles to find a way home, it becomes obvious that what the Skull King wants most is Jake and Kady—dead or alive.

Blockbuster author of THE JUDAS STRAIN and THE LAST ORACLE, James Rollins brings all the twists and chills he's famous for to this breathlessly paced adventure—his first book about Jake Ransom. Fans of Indiana Jones, Alex Rider, and Maximum Ride will flock to this explosively entertaining adventure.

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Editorial Reviews

At first, the arrival of the envelope simply puzzles Jake Ransom, but it doesn't take long before he realizes that its contents might help him and his sister, Kady, finally unravel the mystery behind their parents' disappearance. What he doesn't yet know is that the discovery will catapult these inexperienced siblings into a weird world populated by citizens of many long-lost civilizations. An evil alchemist and high adventure.
Publishers Weekly

This exciting time-travel adventure opens three years after Jake Ransom's archeologist parents have disappeared in the Yucatán, leaving him and his sister, Kady, nothing but their journals and a Mayan coin, broken in half. The siblings receive an invitation to attend an exhibition of Mayan antiquities at the British Museum, and are soon after catapulted into the prehistoric past where ancient Mayans, Romans, Egyptians, Vikings and even Neanderthals have joined together to do battle with the Skull King, a creature so evil that he only appears wrapped in shadows, "as if the darkness were scared of what lay hidden at its heart and attempted to hide the horror from the world." Jake, an Indiana Jones in the making, and Kady, a cheerleader who learns to channel her inner Viking, fight the Skull King to a draw, discovering clues about their missing parents. In this series opener, Rollins (The Last Oracle) presents a wide range of interesting historical information while telling a rollicking good story that should please a wide range of readers-and maybe even some of his adult fans. Ages 10-up. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Children's Literature - Naomi Butler
Jake and Kady are plunged into a gripping chain of events when an artifact found by their archaeologist parents may lead them to uncovering their disappearance. They set out on an expedition to a strange world in order to solve the mystery. The events are exciting and sometimes unexpected. The author has created the young character of Jake Ransom—who—like the Horowitz books lead the reader on great and almost impossible adventures. The female characters are just as good and add great interaction with Jake and others. It has it all—adventures, danger, exploration, discovery, excitement, history, great characters and much more. Teens want a book that keeps their attention all the way through and one that is easily readable. This story is most appealing and with its great cover, it seems to have it all. The format of the print and spacing are just right. The reader will be watching anxiously for another book by this author. Reviewer: Naomi Butler
VOYA - Steven Kral
Jake is the son of two world-renowned but long-missing archaeologists. Living with his sister on the family's estate, he is a gifted but bored student. When he and his sister are invited to a museum opening of an exhibition of artifacts discovered by his parents, he discovers a new and dangerous world that could hold the key to their disappearance. The novel is an enjoyable and quick read. Rollins does very well in building a plot that encourages the reader to continue with the story. It moves quickly, and Jake is a likeable hero. Although the main story is a self-contained adventure tale, it is quite obviously the first in a series and sets up conflicts and mysteries that it never resolves. Rollins spends quite a bit of the beginning expertly establishing the clashes and underlying conspiracies, so much so that when Jake finally arrives in the land of Calypsos, the events there seem more a diversion than the novel's main plot line. In addition, some of the characterization seems very superficial, with characters who never really do more than provide exposition. The novel will appeal to readers looking for a quick, fun read, but will disappoint readers looking for something more. Reviewer: Steven Kral
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—Eighth-grader Jake and his older sister Kady are invited to the British Museum to view the Mayan treasures their archaeologist parents discovered shortly before their disappearance three years earlier. Jake takes along what is left of their parents' possessions: a field log, a sketch book, and two halves of a gold Mayan coin (worn by the siblings around their necks). At the exhibit, Jake examines a two-foot-tall solid gold pyramid with a round hole in its side. He places the Mayan coin in the slot, which creates an explosion, transporting the siblings to another place and time. Calypsos is a land inhabited by dinosaurs, mythical and fantastical creatures, and people from long-lost civilizations. Upon their arrival, Jake and Kady befriend two teens, Pindor and Marika. Together they must save Calypsos from the banished Skull King who threatens to return and take over the land. The pace of the story is occasionally a little slow, but readers who stick with it will be caught up in the adventure, particularly those who are interested in Mayan culture. The characters are likable, especially Jake and Pindor, who experience the insecurities of most teens. Simple drawings add visual aid to the descriptions of Mayan glyphs and other objects. Unanswered questions surrounding their parents' disappearance and the connection between Jake and the Skull King will have readers eagerly looking for the next installment in the series.—Kelley Siegrist, Farmington Community Library, MI
Kirkus Reviews
Eighth grader Jake Ransom (he skipped seventh grade) and his older sister Kady have lived with guardians on their family estate in Connecticut since their archeologist parents disappeared on a Mayan dig three years ago. When the two are invited to a British exposition of the artifacts their parents discovered, they are magically catapulted to the strange jungle community of Calypsos, which is peopled by Mayans, Neanderthals, Romans and others. In the dinosaur-filled volcanic crater of Calypsos, alchemic crystals work magic, but science is unknown. When the community is attacked by an evil renegade alchemist who has dubbed himself Kalvernum Rex, Jake and his new friends among the natives are instrumental in thwarting his plans. The author's first for children starts out as a realistic thriller but takes a big left turn into fantasy without abandoning the thrills. Dollops of real science are nicely integrated, but the characterizations harbor no surprises. An author of science-fiction-tinged adventures for adults, Rollins has created a page-turning first volume in a series that will have readers with elastic suspension of disbelief clamoring for the next volume. (Fantasy. 10-14)
Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
This rollicking adventure story is a wonderfully startling mix of ancient Mayan culture, archeologists, prehistoric animals, and evil personified in the form of the Skull King. Main character Jake and his older sister Kady, the children of two missing archeologists, are physically pulled into an earlier era in human development to Calypso by an ancient Mayan artifact. In this place, Jake and Kady meet an eclectic group of people who also have been pulled from their own worlds and dropped into Calypso: Romans, Neanderthals, Norsemen, Egyptians, and so on. As Jake tries to use his scientific training to figure out how to get home and Kady uses her prowess as a cheerleader to lead a group of Norse athletes to the annual Olympiad, both find that there are larger mysteries at work in Calypso. When Jake finds a watch belonging to his missing father, he becomes even more determined to understand the power of the Skull King and the pull of Calypso on its people. This is the first in what is clearly going to be a series of Jake Ransom books, and it will definitely be a favorite with younger readers. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Jake Ransom Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.60(d)
680L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow

Chapter One

School Daze

From his school desk, Jake Ransom willed the second hand on the wall clock to sweep away the final minutes of his sixth-period history class.

Only another twenty-four minutes and he would be free.

Away from Middleton Prep for a whole week!

Then he could finally get some real work done. He had already mapped out his plans for each day of the weeklong vacation break: to explore the rich vein of shellfish fossils he had discovered in the rock quarry behind his house, to attend a signing by one of his favorite physicists, who had a new book out called Strange Quarks and Deeper Quantum Mysteries, to listen to the fourth lecture by a famed anthropologist on the cannibal tribes of Borneo (who knew sautéed eyeballs tasted sweet?)—and he had so much more planned.

All he needed now was the school's last bell to ring to free him from the prison that was eighth grade.

But escape would not come that easy.

The history teacher, Professor Agnes Trout, clapped her bony hands together and drew back his sullen attention. She stood to one side of her desk. As gaunt as a stick of chalk, and just as dry and dusty, the teacher peered over her fingertips at the class.

"We have time for one more report," she announced.

Jake rolled his eyes. Oh, great...

The class was no happier. Groans spread around the room, which only hardened her lips into a firmer line.

"We could make it two more reports and stay after the last bell," she warned.

The class quickly quieted.

ProfessorTrout nodded and turned to her desk. One finger traced a list of names and moved to the next victim in line to present an oral report. Jake found it amusing to watch her thin shoulders pull up closer to her ears. He knew whose name was next in line alphabetically, but it had somehow caught the teacher by surprise.

She straightened with a soured twist to her lips. "It seems we will hear next from Jacob Ransom."

A new round of groans rose. The teacher did not even bother quieting them down. She plainly regretted her decision to squeeze in one more report before the holiday break. But after almost a year in her class, Jake knew Professor Agnes Trout was a stickler for order and rules. She cared more about the memorization of dates and names than any real understanding of the flow of history. So once committed to her course of action, she had no choice but to wave him to the front of the class.

Jake left his books and notes behind. He had his oral report set to memory. Empty-handed, crossing toward the blackboard, he felt the class's eyes on him. Even though he had skipped a grade last year, he was still the second tallest boy in his class. Unfortunately it wasn't always a good thing to stand out in a crowd, especially in middle school, especially after skipping a grade. Still, Jake kept his shoulders straight as he crossed to the board. He ignored the eyes staring at him. Not one to set fashion trends, Jake wore what he found first that morning (clean or not). He ended up with scuffed jeans, a tattered pair of high-top sneakers, a faded green polo shirt, and of course the mandatory navy school jacket with the school's insignia embroidered in gold on the breast pocket. Even his sandy blond hair failed to match the current razored trend. Instead it hung lanky over his forehead.

Like his father's had been.

Or at least it matched the last picture Jake had of the senior Ransom, now gone three years, vanished into the Central American jungle. Jake still carried that photograph, taped to the inside of his notebook. It showed his parents, Richard and Penelope Ransom, smiling with goofy happiness, dressed in khaki safari outfits, holding up a Mayan glyph stone. The photo's edges were still blackened and curled from the fire that burned through their hilltop camp.

Taped below it was a scrap of parcel paper. On it, written in his father's handwriting, was Jake's name along with the family address for their estate here in North Hampshire, Connecticut. The package had arrived six weeks after the bandits had attacked his parents' camp.

That had been three years ago.

It was the last and only contact from his folks.

Jake fingered the thin cord around his neck as he reached the front of the class. Through his cotton shirt, he felt the small object that hung from the cord and rested flat against his chest. A last gift from his parents. Its reassuring touch helped center him.

To the side, the teacher cleared her throat. "Class, Mr. Ransom will be teaching us... well... I mean to say his oral report will be on..."

"My report," he said, cutting her off, "is on Mayan astronomical techniques in relation to the precession of the equinoxes."

"Yes, yes, of course. Equinoxes. Very interesting, Mr. Ransom." The teacher nodded, perhaps a bit too vigorously.

Jake suspected Professor Agnes Trout didn't fully understand what the report was about. She backed toward her desk, as if fearful he might ask her a question. Like everyone else, she must have had heard the story of Mr. Rushbein, the geometry teacher. How after Jake had disproved one of the teacher's theorems in front of his whole class, he had suffered a nervous breakdown. Now all the teachers at Middleton Prep looked at Jake with a glint of worry. Who would be next?

Jake picked up a piece of chalk and wrote some calculations on the board. "Today I'll be showing how the Maya were able to predict such events as the solar eclipses, like the one that will occur next Tuesday—"

A balled-up piece of paper struck the board near his hand and caused the piece of chalk in his fingers to snap with a loud squeak on the board...

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. Copyright © by James Rollins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

James Rollins is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers that have been translated into more than forty languages. His Sigma series has been lauded as one of the “top crowd pleasers” (New York Times) and one of the “hottest summer reads” (People magazine). In each acclaimed novel, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets—and he does it all at breakneck speed and with stunning insight.

Brief Biography

Sacramento, California
Date of Birth:
August 20, 1961
Place of Birth:
Chicago, Illinois

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