Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx
Released on 05.03.2011
Using his father's watch as a key, Jake intends to return to Calypsos. Instead he's thrust into a strange desert land where he's joined by his friends Marika, Pindor, and Bach'uuk and his sister, Kady. As they try to figure out what to do next, a surprise attack by the beautiful young Princess Nefertiti takes them all captive.
Soon even she is battling the Skull King's minions. For Jake has something the Skull King wants—a prize that will give its owner awesome power, including control of the fearsome Howling Sphinx. In a new pounding adventure, Jake races against time to outfight and outwit Kalverum Rex, knowing that if the Skull King wins, he'll be unstoppable.
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Valley of the Kings
No man could survive such a storm for long.
Clouds of red sand blasted out of the Sahara Desert and swept across Egypt. The storm darkened the sun and grew so vast it could be seen from orbiting satellites. And it was no better on the ground. For those unlucky enough to be caught in the storm, the winds scoured any exposed skin like coarse sandpaper.
But the old man had been summoned and knew he had to obey.
Professor Nassor Khouri was a senior curator of the Cairo Museum and the leading expert on the Old Kingdom of Egypt. The curator hunched against the stinging sand. His sun-leathered face was covered in a scarf, his eyes hidden behind goggles.
As he hiked through the Valley of the Kings, he could barely see past his own nose, but he knew the way. Every Egyptian scholar did. Egyptian pharaohs had been buried in this maze of limestone hills and sandy gullies for millennia, including the famous boy-king Tutankhamen.
But Nassor’s destination lay much farther out, beyond where most archaeologists searched. He fought the storm, moving deeper down the valley toward a new excavation. To anyone looking, it appeared to be nothing more than a well being dug, a project to help bring water to the parched land. Permits, uniforms, and equipment all bore a black griffin, the familiar logo of the company that funded this excavation.
Bledsworth Sundries and Industries, Inc.
The corporation financed many such charitable enterprises throughout the region. But Nassor knew the true goal of this particular project and had been paid well to keep it secret.
And now he had been summoned.
Had the corporation found what it sought?
Surely that was impossible…
Despite the hot breath of the sandstorm, Nassor shivered as he reached the dig site. All the laborers had fled the storm, leaving the place dark and empty. Nassor crossed a maze of abandoned mining gear and piles of work gear to reach the hole in the hillside, framed by timber and sealed with a steel door.
He punched a code into a security keypad, and the door swung open. He hesitated at the threshold. Even with the storm howling at his back, he balked at entering the tunnel. The passageway dove steeply downward, lit by flaming torches set into notches in the walls.
Swallowing back his fear, Nassor ducked inside. A gust of wind sucked the door closed behind him with a loud clang. Startled, he hurried forward.
The quicker I’m done here, the sooner I can get home.
As the way led deeper, the walls changed from raw limestone to stone blocks. Ancient steps appeared and led downward yet again. Deeper and deeper. Nassor kept to the torch-lit path as the walls squeezed tighter on either side, as if trying to push him back. But he had no choice. With sweat trickling down his back, he had to keep going.
At last, the tunnel emptied into a cavernous space. It was a vast domed chamber, the walls scribed with h ieroglyphs. Other passageways led out from the room, but Nassor’s eyes were drawn to the black statues that lined the walls. They were perfect renditions of a ncient Egyptian warriors, dating back to the Old Kingdom. Each man was unique in shape and size, but they all had one feature in common: their faces were masks of terror. Their horrified gazes all focused on the head of a stone serpent in the center of the room.
It stood as tall as Nassor. From the flare of the hood behind its head, it was plainly meant to be a cobra. But this cobra had three eyes: two carved out of limestone and a third that rested atop its skull. This last one reflected the firelight, glowing a blood-red. It was a fist-sized gem cut into the shape of an oval orb.
Nassor approached in disbelief.
A harsh voice stopped him. It came from the tunnel on the far side of the cavern. The speaker remained hidden in the shadows. Only his words scratched out of the darkness.
“You know what it is…”
Nassor recognized that voice. It had summoned him to this secret meeting. The voice came from the man who had bought Nassor’s silence by paying for his dying wife’s medical treatment. The money had saved her life. Nassor had never regretted the pact he had made.
Not until this moment.
Since the beginning, Nassor had been certain that what the man had sought was pure myth, an object out of dark legend. What harm was there in letting the man dig in a place no one valued, to hunt for an artifact that few thought was real? He never thought the Bledsworth corporation would succeed in finding it.
“You recognize the eye…”
Nassor did. It matched the description in the ancient Book of Thoth. He named the gem. “The Eye of Ra.”
“Bring it to me…”
An arm extended out of the tunnel’s shadows. An iron gauntlet hid the hand. Fingers creaked open.
Unable to refuse, Nassor stumbled to the statue. He reached toward the bright eye. As his fingers hovered over the gem, the small hairs on his knuckles stood on end. He froze, sensing a strange power emanating from the stone. His heart thundered in his ears, but he still heard the order repeated.
“Bring it to me…”
With a great effort of will, Nassor closed his hands over the gem. A shock jolted up his arm, but he quickly dislodged the gem out of the eye socket. He stumbled back and stared down at what he held.
The gem was twice the size of his fist. The firelight flowed over its polished surface, bringing out a thousand shades. Nassor had studied enough geology to recognize a fiery ruby, a gem rare for this region and priceless at this size. It was perfect, except for a single blemish along one side. He ran his thumb over the elliptical vein of black obsidian that coursed over one surface of the stone.
It made the gem look like an eye.
Nassor glanced up at the statue.
A serpent’s eye.
Behind the ancient sculpture, the man who hired him flowed out of the tunnel. Shadows cloaked and swirled around his shape, hiding his features.
Shocked, Nassor took a step back. Despite his terror, one certainty crystallized in the curator’s mind. If even half the stories about the Eye of Ra were true, he could not let anyone possess the gem, especially this shadowy man.
A cold chuckle flowed from the figure, as if reading Nassor’s thoughts. “There is nowhere to run…”
Nassor tried. He turned toward the tunnel that led to the surface. He had to get the Eye of Ra away from this monstrous man. If he could reach the surface, get it back to his museum…
He took a step—or at least tried to take a step. But his feet suddenly went dead cold and refused to obey. He stared down, then gasped in disbelief. His shoes had tu rned to stone and were melding to the limestone floor.
No, not just his shoes.
Coldness traveled up his body. He watched his legs turn to stone, then his waist. He fought to move, to twist away. Then the coldness swept over his belly and chest—and out along his arms.
Stone fingers now clutched the ruby eye.
“No,” he moaned out in horror.
Terrified, he stared across at the row of Egyptian warriors and realized his expression now matched theirs. He suddenly understood why he had been summoned here.
“The curse…” the figure rasped at him. “…upon whomever tries to take the Eye from its resting place.”
The voice drew up behind him. Nassor could not even turn as the petrifying coldness froze his neck. He had been tricked, brought here to draw the curse to himself.
Nassor fought against it, crying out, “YOU MUST NOT—” But his frantic plea died as his tongue turned to stone.
Ah, but I must…” the figure whispered in his ear.
An arm reached around, and iron fingers settled on the fiery gem. The Eye of Ra was pried from Nassor’s stony grip. Nassor wanted to turn, to see the face of the man who had doomed him, but he could no longer move, no longer speak, no longer breathe. As his ears turned deaf and his vision grew black, Nassor heard the man whisper a final threat—not against Nassor, but someone else. The cold words followed him down into the darkness.
“With this, I will make Jake Ransom suffer.”
The foregoing is excerpted from Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx by James Rollins. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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from Kirkus Reviews:
Rollins' second Jake Ransom adventure is tighter, more magical and more thrilling than the series opener. Likely to win Jake more fans, this will have adventure seekers of both genders clamoring for volume three.
from October issue of School Library Journal:
In this sequel to Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow (HarperCollins, 2009), Jake’s wild adventures take readers on a journey through space and time, where Nefertiti and her father, Pharaoh Neferhotep, are waging war against the Skull King and his minions, who are hunting Jake and his sister, Kady. The siblings don’t know if their parents are alive or dead. When a new exhibit on Egypt opens at the American Museum of Natural History, they discover that it is sponsored by Bledsworth Sundries and Industries, the company thought to be behind their parents’ disappearance. They take a close look at the mummified body that they heard was half-man, half-bird and discover that it is a grakyl–a deadly creature from another world that gives a warning to Jake and Kady: the Skull King will find and kill them and everyone they love. Suddenly they are back in Pangaea with their friends from the previous book, facing danger and adventure at every turn. And they must defeat the Skull King or the bridge between one time and another could be closed forever. A wild ride with some quick-thinking teens fighting for survival.–Kathryn Kennedy, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA
Q: What triggered the concept for the world of Pangaea, a prehistoric land inhabited by lost ancient cultures?
A: I wanted to create a fantasy world where all manner of ancient civilizations were forced to work together to survive: Mayans, Egyptians, Vikings, Romans, etc. But where to put them? I could have transported them to an entirely new world or land, but I thought “what if groups of them were lifted from their present timeline and dragged back into the past--into the prehistoric past, where dinosaurs still roamed?” How would they survive? And that began the grand adventure as Jake Ransom and his older sister are also dropped into this savage past, to solve the mystery of their lost parents.
Q: What kind of research or travel did you do for Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx?
A: While I wish I could say I took a jaunt into the prehistoric past to research this novel, I did do extensive research into Egyptian myths and legends – and uncovered stories about the mysterious disappearance of Nefertiti, a great Egyptian queen who vanished strangely out of the historical record. Historians are still arguing about what happened to her. In my new novel, I have my own opinion.
Q: How did you research the dinosaurs that appear in Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx? Are they all real dinosaurs?
A: All the dinosaurs referenced in the novel were indeed real--though that doesn’t mean I didn’t create a few fantastical creatures to populate this prehistoric world, too. I’ve always considered myself an armchair archaeologist (I think this should actually be paleontologist; an archaeologist studies peoples and cultures, a paleontologist studies other life, ie animal and plant), so all things saurian--great and small--have always fascinated me.
Q: Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx draws on Ancient Egyptian history and myth. Where does your interest in Ancient Egypt come from?
A: There are three peoples that have always interested me: the Mayans, the Egyptians, and the Vikings. Not surprisingly, the Jake Ransom series follows this same path. The first book--Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow--dealt with Mayan mythology, history, and culture. The latest book is all about the Egyptians. And as you might guess, the following book will deal extensively with the Vikings.
Q: What other mythologies have influenced the Jake Ransom series?
A: It’s hard to explore a set of “lost ancient civilizations” without acknowledging the Greeks and Romans, so onto the page stepped Pindor, a Roman boy, and one of the main supporting characters. But you’ll also see glimpses of many other peoples, including Native Americans who ride great winged birds and even Neanderthals, who have been living in this land the longest and who hold many deep secrets.
Q: How did you invent the Atlantean alphabet that appears in clues throughout the book?
A: I’ve always enjoyed fantasy books where a foreign/ancient language comes to life and plays a vital role in the story -- like the elvish script found in Lord of the Rings. So I painstakingly created my own language: the lost alphabet of the Atlantis race. There are many more surprises locked within that script – including secret messages imbedded into the book for the avid code-breakers out there.
Q: How much do you draw from your own experiences when writing your characters? Have you ever taken Tae Kwon Do lessons like Jake, or fencing lessons like Kady?
A: I’ve taken fencing lessons, but not Tae Kwon Do. That said, next to my veterinary clinic was a Karate school, and I talked to the teachers there extensively about how to fight, defend, and master basic techniques.
Q: You’ve said that the character Jake is a lot like your younger self. Is Kady based on a real person?
A: I grew up with three sisters. Kady is a combination of all three. But don’t tell them I said that, or I’m in big trouble.
Q: Are any of the characters or situations in Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx inspired by real-life people or events?
A: I don’t think any writers spin story and character out of thin air. We draw upon people we know, upon stories we’ve heard. I’ve also done exhaustive research into these lost cultures to try to create the most authentic characters possible, including that of the young Nefertiti.
Q: How did you develop the villain of the Jake Ransom series, the menacing Skull King?
A: I wanted someone mysterious, powerful, and strangely connected to our young hero. So I have Kalverum Rex--the infamous Skull King--armored in shadows and seldom seen on stage. So far we know he is a powerful alchemist who started dabbling in dark arts involving blood and terror. As the series progresses, more and more will be revealed about who and what the Skull King is.
Q: Will any of Jake’s companions from Pangaea, such as Pindor the Roman or Bach’uuk the Neanderthal, return for future adventures?
A: Of course! Along with Marika, they are Jake’s best friends. They are bound together by strange magnetic wristbands. So where Jake goes--his friends have no choice but to follow. But even these special companions have secrets and will grow and develop alongside our hero.
Q: Do you begin writing a new series with a roadmap for all future books in your head, or do you improvise from book to book?
A: I definitely have an overarching plot line to the series. I know how it all ends, and I have outlined the main stepping-stones, across a vast and ever-flowing river, to get there. Yet, half the fun of writing is filling up those unknown spaces in between. That’s where the true magic of storytelling unfolds.
Q: Did you face any challenges in writing an adventure with such strong fantasy elements, as opposed to a story set only in the “real world”?
A: One of the dangers of fantasy writing is not letting the “magic” of your world overrun your characters and plot. Magic must have limitations, rules, and costs. It is one weapon among many and should not be the sole driver of a plot. And the best weapon of all? It’s not a magic ring or wand. It’s the wit, wisdom, and heart of the hero. That’s the real magic I strive for in each book.
Q: What discovery did you find most interesting or surprising as you mapped out the plot to Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx?
A: It was the introduction of a tiny winged creature--half dragon, half snake--called a wisling. He appeared midway through this book, pestering the heck out of Jake, and refused to leave. He’s now a major character and plot point. That is an example of the unexpected magic found between the plotted stepping stones.
Q: Have you faced any unexpected challenges in writing your first middle-grade series?
A: Challenges? Sure. This series is for an entirely new audience and requires some streamlining of plot, but overall it’s been a pure joy to go with Jake on these adventures.
Q: How did your background as a veterinarian help you develop the unusual creatures in Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx?
A: Ah, as a lover of all creatures great and small, I’ve had so much fun creating the fantastical animals (even some flesh-eating plants) that populate these books. But I also try my best to ground them in reality, drawing on my knowledge of all the world’s animals to imagine beasts that seem as real as they are strange.
Q: Without giving away any secrets—what do future books have in store for Jake and Kady?
A: As I mentioned above--and will be no great secret to those who finish Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx--we’ll be heading next to a fiery and icy archipelago of islands, where Norse mythology will come to life and more will be revealed about Jake’s parents and the shadowy monster known as the Skull King.