This book is part of the Royal Diaries series by Scholastic. It is a series of fictional diaries of famous royal women from around the world. The Lady of Palenque is about Chac Nik Yak Ahau Xoc (called Princess Yaxchel or Green Jay in the novel), who was the daughter of Pacal the Great. She lived in pre-Columbian Mayan civilization and her story starts in 749 AD. There isn’t a lot of information about the Lady of Palenque, so the author has a lot of creative license for the diary. Kirwan did do thorough research and consult with experts for the novel though. The diaries are not entirely accurate of course but this is a work of fiction after all.
What is known about Yaxchel is that she was married to K’ak Yipjaj Chan K’awil (Fire Keeper) who was lord of the neighboring kingdom of Xukpi. It was a political marriage arranged by her father. This diary is about Chac Nik Yak Ahau Xoc’s journey to her new husband. Yaxchel travels with a huge entourage from Lakamha (located in Belize) to Xukpi (located in Honduras) with her huge entourage of attendants by foot, canoe and on litters (a platform that is carried by servants).
The journey takes many months and they face a lot of difficulties. They have to avoid enemies, survive tropical storms and being shipwrecked. Some of her entourage even dies along the way. There are moments of respite as well, when they reach different villages and towns. Yaxchel doesn’t complain at all because she has to be strong for everyone else. Everywhere they go they are able to hunt for game and gather edible plants. I admire that self sufficiency and the lack of squeamishness about exotic meats that they ate. Of course, the meat wouldn’t be considered exotic to them but exotic for modern day people.
Yaxchel writes in her diary which she intends to give to her future husband. It is so he knows how his villagers are faring, what rope bridges need to be repaired and her hopes for their marriage. She has never met her future husband and wonders whether they will like each other. They are about twenty years apart in age which wasn’t unusual in that time period.
What I enjoyed about this story was the journey which lasts for the whole book. It’s the only book where the princess is travelling for the entire time. I hoped that the journey better be worth it at the end. I liked the lush descriptions of the environment and I could really imagine the dampness of the rainforest and all the other sights and sounds. I also liked the descriptions on the food like when they all ate crabs.
The journey is arduous where if I had been on it, I would have returned home. However, it would have been a waste to do so after the amount of people who die on the journey. I can imagine how slow communication would be among the kingdoms.
|Palace at Palenque|
What I found difficult about this book was the names of the characters. Some of the names were literal translations of names such as Lady Cottonblossom, while others were just English translations like Tzunuum. I prefer the authentic names the most because I felt the most literal names were jarring and took me out of their world. It seemed that there were so many secondary characters and all with unique names that I found it hard to remember what relationship they had with Yaxchel. Luckily, there is a glossary at the back of the book. There are also pictures so readers can see what Yaxchel’s world was like.
This book is the last book I needed to read to finish the series. I have been collecting the Royal Diaries series since I have a teenager. There is no order to the book series as each book is a standalone book featuring one royal person. I just collected them by purchasing whatever was available at the bookstore and online. I now have the complete collection of twenty books.
The series features well known royal women such as Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra to lesser known royals like Lady of Ch’iao Kuo and Nzingha. My favourites was Queen Elizabeth of England’s diary , Lady of Ch’iao Kuo, Marie Antoinette and Jaharnara of India. I think young girls who like princesses and historical fiction will like these books. I have learnt a lot from reading the Royal Diaries series. One day, I’ll put in on my future class’ bookshelf. Hopefully someone will read them and I’ll look forward to discussing the books and encouraging their interest in history.