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This is without doubt the worst book I have ever read. When I read the blurb it sounded interesting, a race against time to stop the end of the world and historical interludes giving an interesting history of the skull and it's "powers". In actuality, the story was glacier slow and the characters made me have about as much empathy with them as I do for the grapes in my wine. . . scratch that, I feel more for the grapes!!! Seriously, if you are considering paying actual money for this book stop right now, put your wallet/purse away and run. I think somewhere in the story there is scope for a good read. A crystal skull that imbues special powers (that never seem to amount to much in the actual story) and which is important for stopping the end of the world as we know it. Time is running out on figuring out how to delay/stop this from happening, but there is no real speed or danger lurking around any corners though there are baddies mentioned, they don't really play a central part in the story. The interludes into the past should have been exciting and interesting, but I found myself skim reading before completely ignoring so as to finish the book quicker.
It took me the good part of a year to read this book, when I usually take maximum a week and usually a couple of days for a good book. When I finished i was so disappointed with the whole experience I burned the book so that no-one would ever have to go through the same suffering as I had with that particular copy. I would love to give this no stars, so while it might read one, I wouldn't give it any.
Name: The Crystal Skull
Author: Manda Scott
Released: January 2008
Series: N / A
Awards: N / A
Manda Scott, veterinary surgeon and renowned bestselling author, is well known for her successful Boudica series. With the release of Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2007, this novel was extremely well marketed to tell a different story of a skull made of blue quartz, though both concepts are not linked. The amount of recent titles based on a race to save the world with an ancient conspiracy at heart is countless. Hailed by The Times as 'one of Britain's most important crime writers . . . ' can Manda Scott join the acclaimed list of authors before her who can actually pull a story out of the bag?
Meet Stella and Kit, newly wed and totally in love. As a honeymoon gift, Kit organises a cave dive into a cavern virtually unexplored by anyone before. Upon descending they come across a crystal skull, is this the infamous Blue Heartstone belonging to Cedric Owen, an influential contributor to Bede's College and one of Kit's long life obsessions? Realising exactly what they have they travel across England to explore what the skull means and why Stella is being drawn closer and closer to it.
Travelling with newly acquainted sailor Fernandez De Aguilar, Cedric Owen is on a quest of discovery. With a blue skull in his possession he travels to Zama, New Spain to find the origins of the myth circling the skull that has been in his family for generations. Is it an ancient Mayan device crafted to stop Armageddon in 2012? What of other skulls? Here he meets Najakmul, keeper of the white stone, who in turn teaches him his role as keeper of the blue stone. Can his future decedents find the skull and reach the appointed destination in time to not only save humanity but the entire world?
To be fair, the entire concept of The Crystal Skull is not bad, intriguing perhaps. Stella nor Kit is a specialist in Symbology or Ancient History, neither are they members of the police of special forces. They are just two ordinary people and this, I think, works well here. Not only does it make the story more believable, but it also sets itself apart from the other novels of similar subject. I've got to be honest though; it is very slow going, too slow in fact with very little action, mostly relying on character to move things forward. During the cave exploration, somebody is after Stella and consequently hurts Kit. This never really materialises into a real threat throughout the book leaving the tense moments rather lacking in anything tense at all.
The majority of Stella's story revolves around her feelings towards the skull growing more and more intense, but the whole storytelling around this is tragically unconvincing. It rushes in, never really explains itself then spends far too much time repeating the same base, just told with different words. It's not until about 250 pages into the book that it really starts to grab your attention and sadly it has nothing to do with Stella whatsoever. For this reason you can't help but wonder why on earth a side story is more interesting, more readable and more satisfying than that of the main protagonist.
This side story of sorts is Cedric Owen's adventures in New Spain. There are more twists and turns here, more interesting scenes. The way Scott writes here even suggests she herself finds his life more exciting. His quest to find out more about the skull is fascinating, especially with its Elizabethan setting as well as a French ambiance mixed in for good measure. The curious meeting between Owen and Nostradamus, yes the future philosopher, is also exhilarating and mysterious. What does work well here is the cohesive way in which Cedric Owen's discoveries gel together and always link back to previous cliff-hangers from the end of prior chapters. Everything seems to have a meaning and a purpose. It is great to see him progress from an unconfident doctor to an intellectual mastermind and the loyalty of Fernandez De Aguilar instantly makes him a likeable character. I have to wonder how the novel would have faired if Owen had been the main character, the main focus and Stella was just a cog in the machine.
Scott's writing style, though arguably original, is a complete mess, a sort of surreal Salvador Dali picture that just quite doesn't work. One minute she is very clinical in her description, missing out detail as if it were unnecessary drivel, then bham! All of a sudden you get a whole load of it thrust upon you. This approach is tragically difficult to read at times, often resulting in you feeling more confused than satisfied. It does this by unknowingly merging description after description into one another and it all becomes rather dull.
I think perhaps one major problem with this book for me was the heavy use of high end language, words I had never heard of before in my life. Leaving the ego at the door, I'm not stupid, but even second guessing or words from the context of the sentence didn't work and I often felt left out from what Scott was trying to convey. I don't think it is done with the intent on trying to sound far too intelligent, but I feel like I represent the general public and if I don't understand the words, a lot of others are not going to either. To almost contrast this however is the ridiculous overuse of words sometimes. For example within three paragraphs, Scott uses 'coughing' as an adverb four times. It's like she ran out of things to say so to increase word length she reran the entire thing. It occurs throughout the book.
As I already have mentioned, the lack of action means it relies on characterisation to drive the story along. Stella, sadly, is one character I'd wish never to come across again. She often comes across a dilemma; the growing attachment to the skull even though rumours are it'll cost her her life. If only it did. She is whiney, weak and generally annoying. She seems to find it hard to make choices yet holds the position of a skull keeper, a strong female also unnerved by cave dives. I did appreciate Kit's character however; the role of support character mostly in a wheelchair dependant on others was at least refreshing, serious and likeable.
The themes throughout the book pretty much intertwine with each other. Secrecy and history are a fine example of this surrounding the skull stone. The power of influence over Stella is mind boggling but the exploration of its historical meaning with Cedric Owen justifies most things wrong with Stella's character. The thin line between reality and magic is an interesting one because it is left up to you, the reader, to decide what take suits you best. A sense of foreboding over the Armageddon on its way is perhaps the most exciting and tense theme throughout the book. It does prolong the story, rising and rising with each passing chapter. Then all of a sudden the book comes to an abrupt end.
With the tension rising and certain doom about to happen, the book comes to a hasty finish with a rushed explanation on who the 'bad guy' is and happened to Cedric Owen. The truth is honestly without sounding overly melodramatic, this is one of the worst anticlimactic stories I have ever come across. With everything going for it to just finish like that leaves you with a feeling of sorrow, of regret that you even bothered in the first place. You'll never guess who the assailant is, not because of some great mystery and grand cunning, but rather because it's just so damn silly and rather unimportant in the end anyway.
The Crystal Skull is dull, unexciting and ultimately a misery to read. Whether it is the anticlimactic ending, the general storyline or the unapproachable protagonist, it's just a waste of time, never really giving you any reason to indulge. The story is repetitive as well as the description, whilst at times too confusing. The ancient conspiracy of the Mayan prediction of 2012 is never fulfilled, explored or even written to interest and leaves the blurb rather false. Cedric Owen's sixteenth century life is the only enjoyable thing about this novel with a host of likeable characters, but overall the whole book sinks so deep into obscurity. A pathetic excuse for literature and even puts me off from reading any other Manda Scott novel. The risk is just far too great.