This third installment of a series tells the fictionalized story of a Mayan queen.
In 622 C.E., a young woman named Tz’aakb’u Ahau (called Lalak) travels from her hometown of B’aak to the great city of Lakam Ha. She is set to marry the young ruler of B’aakal Polity, K’inich Janaab Pakal. Lalak is awkward and unsophisticated by big city standards, untrained in court protocol; she’s always preferred to spend time close to nature, communing with its energies and, through them, the Mayan gods. Pakal would much rather have wed the beautiful Yonil, but his mother, Sak K’uk, a formidable woman who ruled in his stead when he was a child, disapproved of the match. At first, the marriage is difficult and distant, especially as Lalak suffers a string of miscarriages. Pakal spends his time on city affairs instead of with his wife, building inventive structures and carrying out military campaigns against the Kan, rulers of a rival polity whose raids generations ago destroyed Lakam Ha’s most sacred site, the Sak Nuk Nah—without which its leaders can’t perform the necessary rituals to serve their gods and ancestors. But as Lakam Ha’s grandeur and influence grow, so do Lalak’s strength and confidence, even as she and Pakal’s relationship becomes closer. The Mayan civilization at its height was rich and complex and is all too rare a subject for historical novels. Martin’s (The Controversial Mayan Queen, 2014, etc.) historical knowledge is exhaustive, conjuring a vanished milieu of nobles, priests, and palace schemes. The book is full of detailed descriptions of Mayan culture, religion, and the all-important calendar—but while a lot of this information is captivating, there’s far too much of it for an enjoyable novel. These passages frequently overwhelm the more relatable human stories that Martin tells, like Lalak’s heartbreak during her pregnancies. Do readers really need to know about the “trapezoidal linear truss using high strength timber crossbeams” that makes Lakam Ha’s seventh-century architecture innovative?
An intriguing historical tale sometimes overwhelmed by academic details.