In the last week of Jesus’s life, the Emperor Augustus orders the purge of all prophecies that question his divine power. Thus, in the crater of a dormant volcano, the books of the Sibylline oracle are sealed—lost to the world until the nineteenth century when Clio, a brilliant archaeologist, discovers them. The Sibyl’s words remain as potent as ever, having the ability to change the destiny of mankind. But who will be bold enough to harness their power?
More than a century after their discovery, some of the secret prophecies fall into the hands of nuclear scientist Ariel Behn when her beloved cousin is assassinated. If Ariel can discover the mystery behind the prophecies, she will be able to prevent a potentially worldwide catastrophe—but in order to do so she must travel to Russia, Vienna, and Paris where too many people are desperate to protect the secrets of these ancient writings.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Katherine Neville including rare images from her life and travels.
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About the Author
Neville’s novels, which have been published in more than eighty countries, have been enriched by her twenty-year career as an international computer executive and consultant, which took her to live in six countries on three continents and twenty-six of the United States. She has also worked as a portrait painter, a commercial photographer, and a model. To learn more, visit her at www.katherineneville.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Magic Circle
By Katherine Neville
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Katherine Neville
All rights reserved.
And they do not know the future mystery,
or understand ancient matters.
And they do not know what is going to happen to them,
and they will not save their souls from the future mystery.
— The Dead Sea Scrolls, prophecy of the Essenes
Now has come the last age of the song of Cumae.
From the renewed spirit of the Ages a new Order is born.
Now the Virgin returns, the reign of Saturn returns.
Now a new generation is sent down from heaven on high.
— Virgil, Fourth Eclogue, messianic prophecy of the Sibyl
Cumae, Italy: Autumn, A.D. 1870
It was just before dusk. The volcanic Lake Avernus, high above Cumae, seemed to float in the air, partly veiled with a thin metallic haze. Between the patches of mist, the lake's glassy surface mirrored opalescent clouds scudding across the crescent sliver of the moon.
The walls of the crater were wild with scrub oak, changing color from bloodred to purple in the descending twilight. The aroma of the dark sulfurous lake filled the air with a sense of danger. The very landscape of this ancient, hallowed spot seemed to be waiting for something, something that had been foretold for thousands of years. Something that was about to happen tonight.
As the darkness deepened, a figure slipped stealthily from the trees bordering the water's edge. It was followed swiftly by three others. Though all four were dressed in sturdy leather breeches, jerkins, and helmets, it was clear by form and bearing that their leader was a woman. Over her shoulder she carried a pickaxe, a roll of oiled tarpaulin, sturdy rope, and other climbing gear. Her male companions followed silently, skirting the rim to the far side of the lake.
The woman moved back into the shadows, where a thick cluster of trees camouflaged an overhanging cliff. In darkness, she felt along the sheer face of vine-covered rock until she'd once more found the hidden crevasse. Pulling on heavy gloves, she loosened the rubble she'd so carefully replaced earlier. Her heart pounded as she slipped sideways through the narrow cleft in the rock, followed by her three companions.
Inside the cliff, the woman quickly unrolled the tarpaulin and, with the help of the others, stuffed it into the crack. When not even the smallest trace of light from the cave could be observed outside, she pulled off her metal helmet and lit the carbide miner's lamp affixed to it. Tossing back her mane of blond hair, she gazed at her three rugged companions, whose eyes glittered in the lamplight. Then she turned to look at the cave.
Carved from the lava rock, the walls of the vast cavern rose more than one hundred feet above them. It took her breath when she realized they stood at the edge of a sheer cliff that dropped off into the pitch-black void. She could hear the sound of rushing water, from what seemed hundreds of feet below. This was the passage that had once led those seeking the mysteries deep within the bowels of this extinct volcano. This was the legendary place sought by so many over so many centuries, the cavern that had once served as home to the most ancient of all prophets: the Sibylline oracle.
Now, as she shone the lamp across the glistening walls, the woman knew there could be no mistaking what she'd found. The cave was exactly as described by those who'd visited here from earliest times — Heraclitus, Plutarch, Pausanias, and the poet Virgil, who'd immortalized this grotto in verse as the site of Aeneas's entry into the underworld. Indeed, she knew that she and her three comrades could well be the first to have laid eyes on this fabled spot in two millennia.
When the emperor Augustus had seized power in Rome in 27 B.C., his first act had been to round up all copies of the books of her prophecies, called the Sibylline Oracles. He'd burned any he deemed "inauthentic" — those that did not support his tenure, or that prophetically heralded the return of the Republic. Then he'd ordered the Cumaean grotto sealed. Its official entrance, located not here but at the base of the volcano, was buried beneath a mountain of rubble. All trace of the famous cave's existence had been lost to mankind. Until now.
The young woman set down her gear and once again pulled on her mining helmet with its small beacon of light. Extracting from her leather jerkin the crudely drawn map she'd brought, she handed it to the tallest of the three men. She addressed him aloud for the first time.
"Aszi, you will come with me. Your elder brothers must remain here and guard this entrance. If we can make no progress below, this crevasse will be our only avenue of escape." Turning to the sheer cliff, she added undaunted, "I shall make the first descent."
But he'd taken her by the wrist. His handsome face searched hers with great concern. Then he drew her to him and he gently kissed her forehead.
"No, let me go down first, Clio," he said. "I was born on the rocks, you know, carita, I can climb like a goat. My brothers will lower you after me." When she shook her head, he told her, "No matter what your father sketched out on this map before he died, it's just one man's scholarly opinion, formed from reading dusty books. Through all his travels, your father could never find the place. And you know well that oracles are often dangerous. The one at Delphi kept a brood of deadly pythons in her cave. You can't know what we'll find in the shrine you imagine is down there, in the dark."
Clio shuddered at the thought, and the two strapping men nodded in support of their brother's bravery. Aszi lit a second lamp, which he clipped onto his own helmet. The men secured the heavy rope to a rock and their younger brother, with only his bare hands on hemp, used his hobnailed boots to clear the wall and vanished with a brief, flashing smile into the darkness.
After what seemed a very long while, the rope swung loose, so they knew he had touched bottom. Clio passed her own rope between her legs to form a harness, which the brothers secured to the main line as double protection if she slipped. Then she, too, went over the side.
As Clio descended the sheer rock face, alone in silence, she studied the schist in the light of her lamp as if it contained the key to some riddle. If walls had ears, she thought, this one might reveal thousands of years of mysteries. Just like the Sibyl herself, a woman who could see all of the future and the past.
The oldest oracle in history, a woman who lived in many lands over dozens of generations, the Sibyl was born on Mount Ida, from which the gods once overlooked the war on the plains of Troy. More than five hundred years before Christ, the Sibyl traveled to Rome, where she offered to sell to King Tarquin the books of her prophecies spanning the next twelve thousand years. When he refused to meet her price she burned the first three volumes, then the next three, until only three books were left. Tarquin did buy these, and he enshrined them in the Temple of Jupiter, where they remained until that structure, too, burned to the ground, in 83 B.C., along with its precious contents.
The Sibyl's vision was so profound and far-reaching, she had been granted any wish by the gods. She asked to live for one thousand years, but she forgot to ask for youth. As the end of her life approached, she had shrunk so small that nothing remained but her voice, which still prophesied from a little glass ampulla placed in this ancient cave of the mysteries. People traveled from far and wide to hear her song — until Augustus silenced her, for eternity, with Neapolitan clay.
Clio hoped beyond hope that the information her father had gleaned from his wealth of readings in ancient texts, a vision he'd only really understood on his deathbed, would prove true. Whether true or not, to follow the overriding wish of a dying man had already cost her everything she'd known in her young life.
When she reached bottom, she felt Aszi's strong hands grasp her waist, helping her to gain her footing on the slippery rocks that bordered the onrushing underground river.
They made their way for more than an hour through the caverns beneath the volcano, following the directions her father had laid forth on the map. At last they came to the hollow, high in the rock, beneath which the Sibyl's successors, young country girls, had for centuries sat on a golden throne — now a mass of crumbled stones — transmitting the prophecies passed down through them from the mind of the ancient goddess.
Aszi stopped beside Clio, then he unexpectedly bent to her, and he kissed her on the lips. He smiled. "You are nearly free," he said.
Without another word he bounded up the crumbled pile of rock to the hollow, scaling the last length of cliff with his hands. Clio held her breath as he gained purchase against the rock with his boots and she saw him stretch his arm to reach his hand into the high hollow, feeling about in the dark hole above his head. After a long moment he drew something out.
When he returned, he handed it to Clio. It was a shimmering object, like a tiny vial, not much larger than her palm. Clio had never believed that the Sibyl's voice was contained in an ampulla, but rather that the ancient vial held her prophetic words. Her prophecies, Plutarch had said, were written on small bits of metal, so light and fragile that, when released, they were borne away on the wind.
Clio carefully opened the vial and the tiny leaves tumbled out into her palm, each the size of a fingernail and each inscribed in Greek. She touched one leaf and looked into Aszi's dark purple eyes gazing into her own.
"What does it say?" he whispered.
"In Greek, this one says 'En to pan'," she told him. "It means 'One is all.'"
The Sibyl had foretold what would happen at each critical turning point in history — and, more important, how it was connected to each critical event of the past. It was said that she'd predicted the dawn of a new celestial age immediately following her own — the age of Pisces, the fish, whose avatar would be a virgin-born king. The Sibyl could see mysterious connections, like spider threads spanning thousands of years, connecting the age of Pisces with that of Aquarius, the water-bearer, an age that would not dawn until twenty centuries later — which would be just about now.
Clio slipped the leaves back into the vial. But as she and Aszi began their long trek through the caves, back toward the surface, she feared she knew what this moment really meant. It was as her father had always imagined. By unearthing a bottle like this, a bottle filled with time — by uncorking the long-mute voice of the past — she'd opened a door that perhaps should have remained closed. A Pandora's box.
Tonight, the Sibyl's song that had lain mute in darkness beneath the volcano had been reawakened, to be heard once more by humans for the first time in nearly two thousand years.CHAPTER 2
ENTERING THE CIRCLE
So [Jesus] told us to form a circle, holding one another's hands, and himself stood in the middle and said, "Answer Amen to me." So he began to sing and to say ...
Dance, all of you. ...
To the universe belongs the dancer.
He who does not dance does not know what happens. ...
Now if you follow my dance, see yourself in me who am speaking,
And when you have seen what I do, keep silence about my mysteries.
I leaped: but do you understand the whole?
— Acts of John, New Testament Apocrypha
Jerusalem: Early Spring, A.D. 32
Pontius Pilate was in trouble, deep and serious trouble. But it seemed to him the most bitter of ironies that — for the first time in the seven years of his tenure as Roman praefectus, governor of Judea — the bloody Jews were not to blame.
He sat alone high above the city of Jerusalem, on the terrace of the palace built by Herod the Great, overlooking the western wall and the Jaffa Gate. Below, the setting sun turned the leaves of the pomegranate trees of the royal gardens to flame, highlighting Herod's legacy of golden cages filled with doves. Beyond the gardens the slope of Mount Zion was thick with blossoming acacias. But Pilate couldn't focus on his surroundings. In half an hour he would have to review the troops brought in to be quartered there in preparation for the week of the Jewish festival. Things always went wrong at these events, with so many pilgrims in town, and he dreaded a debacle like others they'd seen in the past. But that was far from the greatest of his problems.
For one holding so important a post, Pontius Pilate was a man of surprisingly humble beginnings. As his name implied, he was the descendant of former slaves, having somewhere an ancestor who'd been granted the pileus — the cap distinguishing a freed man who, through noble acts and personal endeavor, was made a citizen of the Roman Empire. Without education or advantage, but only through a combination of intelligence and hard work, Pontius Pilate had risen to join the ranks of the equestrian order in Rome, and was now a knight of the realm. But only when he'd had the great fortune to be discovered by Lucius Aelius Sejanus had Pilate's star, along with his patron's, soared like a meteor in the firmament.
These past six years — while the emperor Tiberius had been in resplendent retreat, diverting himself on the isle of Capri (rumor had it that his sexual appetites ran to young boys, unweaned infants, and an exotic zoo of imported beasts) — Sejanus had become the most powerful, hated, and feared man in Rome. In his capacity as coconsul, with Tiberius, of the Roman senate, Sejanus was free to govern as he chose, arresting his enemies on trumped-up charges and extending control abroad by furthering his own candidates for foreign assignment — such as Pontius Pilate's appointment here in Judea. In a nutshell, that was Pontius Pilate's problem, for Lucius Aelius Sejanus had been killed.
Not only was Sejanus dead, he'd been executed for treason and conspiracy by order of Tiberius himself. He was accused of seducing the emperor's daughter-in-law, Livilla, who'd helped him poison her husband, Tiberius's only son. When the document from the emperor in Capri had been read aloud before the Roman senate last autumn, the ruthless, cold-blooded Sejanus — taken completely off guard by the betrayal — had crumpled and had to be helped from the chamber. That same night, by command of the Roman senate, Lucius Aelius Sejanus was strangled in prison. His lifeless body was stripped naked and tossed on the Capitol steps, where it remained three days for the amusement or retaliation of the Roman citizenry, who spat, urinated, and defecated upon it, stabbed it, turned their animals loose upon it, and finally threw it into the Tiber for the fish to finish whatever was left. But the end of Sejanus was not the end of the story.
All members of the Sejanus family were hunted down and destroyed — even his little daughter who, as a virgin, couldn't be put to death under Roman law. So the soldiers raped her first, then slashed her throat. Sejanus's estranged wife committed suicide; the complicitous Livilla was locked in a room and left to starve by her own family. And now, less than half a year after his death, any allies or colleagues of Sejanus not yet executed had committed suicide by taking poison or falling on their swords.
Pontius Pilate was not horrified by such acts. He knew the Romans intimately, though he would never be one of them. That was the error Sejanus had made: he'd wanted to be a noble Roman, to marry into the imperial family itself, to supplant their rule. Sejanus had believed his blood would enrich the blood of kings. Instead, it was enriching the silt of the river.
Excerpted from The Magic Circle by Katherine Neville. Copyright © 1998 Katherine Neville. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The characters were unmemorable, nor endearing. The plot was buried in historical inaccuracies and disjointed. I only continued to read because I hoped it would go somewhere, but was sorely disappointed. I also bought its sequel at the same time, but have not started to read it since the first was so disappointing. The Expected One is FAR more compelling.
This was my first Neville book and I was very disappointed. After reading the reviews of her first two books, I really expected more. The characters were interesting but weakly developed and there were so many of them presented that it was difficult to follow their relationships. The plot was too complex and over-developed causing it to be confusing. The plot got lost in all of the information that Neville attempted to present. It just seemed to go on and on. The supposedly historical chapters were dry, lenghthy, and uninteresting and just added to the confusion. They did not add to the storyline but detracted from it. Some of them made me wonder what, if anything, they had to do with the rest of the book. I think the storyline would have flowed better without them. I usually hate to see a good book come to an end, but this was a chore to read and I couldn't wait to finish it. The book cover was the best thing about this book!
At some point I stopped reading the history/myth aspects of the story and focused on the main character. However, when I got to the point in the story when Ariel meets Zoe and I felt the need to draw a family tree to identify who was related to which evil doer, I started to skim. And I continued to skim for the next 200 pages. I think that there was a good idea for a book in there somewhere, but where was the editor.
This book was a total mess and a true disappointment. The main plot line was interesting, but the historical chapters are confusing and distracting. I was really looking forward to reading this book....what a total disappointment.
What a overly complicated plot with unremarkable characters and a big headache to read. Disappointing to say the least.
Having read and enjoyed Neville's first 2 novels ('The Eight' and 'A Calculated Risk'), I looked forward eagerly to her latest effort. Ye Gawds, what a disappointment! 'The Magic Circle' turned out to be the literary equivalent of the scene in the movie 'Monty Python & the Meaning of Life' (1983) in which an obese man enters a restaurant and eats until he literally--and messily--explodes all over the place. Neville drops a little of everything (New Age, the Nazis, American In- dians, Druids, the Bible, South Africa, and so on, and so on...) And to boot, the book goes on for another long chapter after the climax. Worse, she uses that worn-out soap opera plot device of several characters having different parents or grandparents than one is supposed to have (after a while, I wouldn't have been surprised if Adolph Hitler had turned out to be Our Heroine's grandfather!) All this could be forgiven if 'The Magic Circle' were a first effort by some amateur novelist. Katherine Neville is capable of much better than this, but she seemes to have forgotten all the rules of good storytelling that made her first novels so much fun to read. Sad to say, the third time was NOT the charm.
I expected a thriller and was given a fantasy. This book incorporates more myths than anyone could imagine in one volume. It starts with much promise: a young man slain, a young woman his heir, the inheritance a collection of ancient manuscripts which we are led to believe can control the fate of the world. This novel was hard to follow and I don¿t believe Neville succeeded in bringing the ancient and modern worlds together. The family which is at the heart of the story is most unbelievable and leaves the reader wondering if there is any way a family could be this complicated. This could almost be considered a family saga as well as a thriller/fantasy.
I don't know, maybe it's the times and people Neville chooses in this one, but I had a harder time following it and didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I did 'The Eight' or even 'A Calculated Risk.' Those books are fantastic because they're cerebral but not impossible to follow. I had a hard time linking the subjects together in this book.
This is just a mess. There is chunks of infodumping, the main character seems to be related to almost everyone. Hitler is a pivotal character and the history seems not only to be adapted to suit but also warped to suit.There are ways and means of doing this sort of book and this wasn't one of them. You really need to base it in real history and just warp a few minor points rather than have the historian in me. It wasn't a bad book but it was a book that could have been tidied up by a good editor.It's a story of a woman whose life is turned around when she inherits a set of manuscripts when her brother dies. There are several interested parties in these documents and they're all determined to get them. During the investigations she finds out more about her family's past and she has to decided what to do with the papers.It's a bit better thought out than the [book:da vinci code] but that's not saying an awful lot.
What happens when you mix Native Americans, Hitler, Gypsies, nuclear weapons, human sacrifice, Mongols, the Cold War, the Roman Empire, the early Christian church, Druids, the Knights Templar, sex, and Greek gods together? A whirlwind, globe-trotting adventure that spans the centuries. Though not as engrossing as her earlier novel, The Eight, this story still has quite a bit to offer. The year is 1989. We meet Ariel Behn, your average nuclear engineer whose world is turned upside down with the sudden death of her beloved cousin Sam. Suddenly everyone from the family she's spent her life trying to avoid is interested in her inheritance, which is a set of ancient manuscripts. Ariel spends much of the book trying to figure out how the various players are interconnected while attempting to stay alive long enough to learn why people are so willing to kill or be killed for these documents. There are plenty of twists, turns, and surprises in store for her on her journey that takes her from the remote mountains of Idaho to deepest Soviet Russia and beyond.This is not a light read. The story pauses several times to give first-hand accounts of events in the years following the death of Christ, both of those who knew him and those who wanted to destroy him. I unfortunately read three other books while reading this one, and I admit I was still a little lost by the end of it. I do not understand how everything tied together, or why exactly the manuscripts were so important. All the same, I enjoyed the characters and felt myself cheering Ariel on as she untangled the web of lies that had ensnared her family for so many years. Not as good as The Eight, but if you're interested in historical fiction mixed with New Age spirituality, it's worth a read.
A puppet-heroine cracks codes, falls for a suspicious man and discovers family secrets that could out-soap a soap opera. All this plus pages of history, myths and tales that should make a whole of some kind, but are really just exhausting to get through. Didn't like, but couldn't leave unfinished.
Even after a second reading, this book entertains to the nth degree. Ms. Neville delivers a fun-filled quest to find the meaning of a coded manuscript that could change the future.Ariel Behn has a job with the government and a cozy life until her cousin, Sam, dies. She inherits part of manuscripts believed to have come from her grandmother, Pandora. So why is the rest of the family and strangers after what she has?Ariel is forced to travel to Europe to find the secret of these papers and her famousinfamous family. Fun,fast-paced and a place should be saved on a bookshelf!
Katherine Neville really blew me away with her book The Eight, so I went into reading The Magic Circle with a lot of expectations. While Magic Circle has a similar cross-story between "present" and "past" as The Eight, she seemed to lose a little bit of the clarity that she had. I feel as if there were a few too many characters and just too many "coincidences" between all of them. There were so many cross-connections between all the characters that were supposed to lead you to conclusions, that you end up reeling a bit. That said, I still enjoyed this book. Not as much as The Eight by far, but even though this one had too many characters, I really LIKE her characters and get a real sense of who they are. So be prepared to put a lot of thought and time into connecting the dots in this one. But don't go into it expecting a repeat of The Eight.
Neville weaves some intriguing history with a great deal of, well, intrigue. I enjoyed how mythology and fact wound together to create a seamless whole. The plot was one of a kind and kept me on my toes throughout. I really enjoyed the fact that this was an intellectual story that really caused me to think. At the same time, there were some very disturbing aspects to the story that I felt weren’t absolutely necessary to the plot. The plot of the novel definitely had lots of potential and captured my imagination, but Neville lost me for a bit with her cast. It definitely took me quite a while to connect with the characters in novel. They were very well developed, yet didn’t always seem to fit quite fully into the story. All in all this was an enjoyable story, but the characters kind of fell short of the mark. It was definitely a thought provoking read. Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this work in exchange for an honest review.
The Magic Circle by Katherine Neville The author of the book "Eight" uses a similar formula: two tales separated by time, but intertwined in mystery, as the means to tell a story. The first tale deals with the last days of Jesus Christ from A. D. 32 to A. D. 61. As the world stands on the brink of a new two thousand year cycle, emperor Tiberius tries to decipher the clues of an age old enigma: the source of power that comes from objects like the spear that killed Jesus and the sword used by John to slice the centurion's ear as they came to take Jesus away. Tiberius passes this knowledge to Caligula, Claudius, and finally Nero - all of who try to decipher the mystery to no avail. In the year 1989, Ariel Behn, a toxic materials expert at a remote nuclear site in Snake River, Idaho, finds her life shattered when her cousin, Sam, is slain by an unknown assassin. As the heir to a family legacy - a cache of manuscripts that contain not only the source of political power, but also to the source of all energy - Ariel races across continents to reveal the dark secrets in her family's past, thus she begins to uncover the chilling truth of the coming millennium. Again, the story is told from Ariel's first person point of view and from the third person point of view of the characters near Jesus. Unfortunately, this time, it doesn't work. Ms. Neville creates a mess with Ariel's family. Every chapter we learn that the Behns are screwed up. Their family tree is so convoluted that it's very difficult to follow how they are related to each other. It might have helped if the author would have printed a chart of the family tree. Ms. Neville tries to attach too many things to Pandora's manuscript - Ariel's inheritance and the cause of all the mayhem. On one side are the Nez Percé Indian tribe and their religion that is based on nature. Then there is Christianity and the source of everlasting life. Then there is Greek and Roman mythology, the succession of eons - two thousand year cycles - and astrology. She also includes Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. She also tries to incorporate the druids and the Celtic culture. In an attempt to unite all of these philosophies, Ms. Neville uses the thirteen sacred Hallows: "To make this connection, thirteen sacred objects must be brought together in one place. Each object fulfills a specific purpose in the ritual of rebirth of the new age, and each of these objects must be anointed in the divine fluid before it is put into use. The objects for the next age are these: The Spear, The Sword, The Nail, The Goblet, The Stone, The Box, The Cauldron, The Platter, The Garment, The Loom, The Harness, The Wheel, and The Gaming Board. He who unites these objects without possessing the eternal wisdom may bring forth, not an age of cosmic unity, but one instead of savagery and terror." P. 211 Thus we get a lesson in history about Hitler and all the villains and heroes who were after these objects. Ms. Neville creates a confusing web of factoids that are both annoying and almost impossible to follow. A good idea gone wrong...
Characters are weakly developed, but full development would make too long a read for the story. Plot is interesting. Mystery is outstanding. Realism of the main relationships is outstanding. Description of spiritual experience is outstanding. Capture of historical weave is outstanding. Balance is sometimes thrown off by detailed descriptions of surroundings which lend nothing to the story. Otherwise technical writing skill is outstanding.