About the Book

Title: Lady of Palenque: Flower of Bacal, Mesoamerica, A.D. 749 (The Royal Diaries #17)
Published: 2004
Series: The Royal Diaries
Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Cover Story: Mayan Mardi Gras
BFF Charm: Yay
Talky Talk: Talking-Back Jaybird
Bonus Factors: Mayan Empire, Storytelling
Relationship Status: Successful Arranged Marriage

The Official FYA Royal Diaries Drinking Game

Take a sip when:

  • There is talk of a betrothal
  • The protagonist references the diary concept (i.e. apologizes for not writing often enough, has to find a hiding place for the diary, explains why she’s writing in it to begin with, etc.)
  • The protagonist wonders what it would be like to be a “normal girl”
  • There’s a ball
  • Somebody is poisoned or strangled or in some other way Ye Olde Murdered
  • You wish you were a princess

Take two sips when:

  • The protagonist becomes betrothed (for realsies)
  • It’s the protagonist’s birthday (or culturally equivalent celebration)
  • Obvious historical foreshadowing
  • You’re really glad you’re NOT a princess

Take a shot when:

  • The protagonist gets hitched
  • Another Royal Diarist is mentioned

Cover Story: Mayan Mardi Gras

I realize that Mardi Gras has absolutely nothing to do with Classic Mayan civilization, nor vice versa, but it was the very first thought that popped into my head when looking at this cover. I also first read “Mesoamerica” as “Mesopotamia,” so I was not batting 1,000 from the start.

The Deal:

ShahnaK’in Yaxcel Pacal, daughter of the King of Bacal, has lived in Lakamha City her entire life. But at thirteen years old, she is chosen from all her sisters to be a wife of Bacal’s greatest ally, King Fire Keeper of Xukpi. Her new role will not only be that of wife and mother, but of the King’s personal reader, scribe, and accountant. First, though, she has to get to Xukpi, which means a long trek over treacherous waters and through enemy-infested forest, with only a few stops at magnificent palaces to take a well-earned steam bath or two.

BFF Charm: Yay

Yay BFF Charm

I definitely admired ShahnaK’in, who was much more accepting than I would’ve been about the whole leave-your-home-and-everyone-you’ve-ever-loved-forever-to-marry-a-man-more-than-twice-your-age-whom-you’ve-never-met thing. She’s an excellent observer, which makes her well-suited to her task of recording all she sees and hears for posterity. (Yes, here’s a Royal Diarist with a legitimately official reason for diarying, rather than the standard “It’s my birthday and someone gave me this blank book!” impetus.) I didn’t necessarily feel as close to her as I have with previous characters in this series, but in the absence of a “Regular Friend, for the Foreseeable Future” (RFFF) charm, I’m happy to bestow this upon her.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Like I’ve said before in these Royal Diaries reviews, I don’t think I’m ever going to unreservedly swoon about a relationship between a young teen and a grown man, no matter how it’s presented to me. But beyond the unappealing premise of their arranged, polygamous, May-December romance, there’s nothing particularly offensive about the ShahnaK’in/King Fire Keeper relationship. He turns out to be a perfectly nice guy who likes some of the same things she does. The “1” score pretty much just acknowledges that this relationship exists.

Talky Talk: Talking-Back Jaybird

Like the Lady of Ch’iao Kuo, we don’t actually know the Lady of Palenque’s name, only her title. Anna Kirwan seems to compensate for that by giving her three or four new names, nicknames, and titles, and never using the same one twice. Maybe that’s just a quirk of the Mayan language, but we get a lot of lines like this:

In-Ta said, “You will be his Ixoc Chel, his Woman Reader of the Rainbowbird lineage, his Talking-Back Jaybird. You are like your mother, my precious wife Chac Canna Chel, Jaybird on a Tall Red Lily.”

Obviously not every sentence was like that (or I might not have made it through), but a lot of them were. There were so many different names and titles and descriptions for people and places and things, both in Mayan (“Chac Canna Chel”) and English (“Jaybird on a Tall Red Lily”) that I quickly gave up on trying to keep track of them all. On the one hand, this felt nicely authentic and right for a character who is known for being an accomplished scribe. (And whatever your feelings on glossaries in books, the one in this book certainly helped me.) On the other, I think the language was part of the reason I felt a certain distance from the character.

Bonus Factor: Mayan Empire

As so often in Royal Diaries books, the setting alone serves as a major bonus factor. How many YA books—or fiction books in general—are set in the Mayan Empire at the height of its splendor? Even though ShahnaK’in spends a good portion of the book trekking through the jungle, the glimpses of Mayan civilization we get—from their massive pyramids to their sacred ballgame—are fascinating.

Bonus Factor: Storytelling

Unsurprisingly, given the Mayans’ famed writing system and ShahnaK’in’s own skill with pen and ink, storytelling is a significant theme in this book. ShahnaK’in copies down a few myths and parables into her diary, all of which are tons of fun to read. But especially the story of Quiet Tup, and how he avoids getting eaten by his father-in-law.

Relationship Status: Successful Arranged Marriage

This book and I didn’t find each other on purpose. Our meeting was carefully orchestrated: it’s a part of a series, and I’ve committed to reading every book in this series. I guess you could say it was all political. I didn’t have any particular expectations for what this book would be, but once we got together, it ended up being a pretty good time. We’re not in love, but I can see us having a friendly and supportive partnership for years to come—anything to keep the lineage alive.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Lady of Palenque: Flower of Bacal has been available for years, y’all. So get on that.

About the Contributor:

Maria Greer is originally from Montana but goes to school in the Bay Area, where she totally fails to take advantage of the tech industry. Instead, she is majoring in history and creative writing, with which she plans to do…something. Currently her hope is that someone will come along and offer to pay her to read YA novels and eat cupcakes. Until that day, Maria spends most of her time studying and petitioning the university to let her keep a cat in her dorm.

This post was written by a guest writer or former contributor for Forever Young Adult.