Sak K’uk Now Published in Print

The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K’uk of Palenque.  Book 2, Mists of Palenque Series.


Sak K’uk, the strong-willed daughter of Yohl Ik’nal—first Mayan woman ruler—faces rebellious nobles and spiritual crisis in her city following a devastating enemy attack. The sacred portal to the Gods is desecrated, temples and crops destroyed, the ruler killed and the royal family humiliated. With her city in chaos and leaderless, Sak K’uk undertakes a perilous Underworld journey to seek help and encounters the Primordial Mother Goddess, Muwaan Mat.

Invoking the powers of the Goddess to overcome opposition, Sak K’uk accedes and holds the throne for her young son, Pakal. She knows that a Mayan prophecy foretold Pakal’s destiny to become ruler, restore the collapsed portal, and bring Lakam Ha to greatness. The intense trials of mother and son forge a special bond that proves both a blessing and a curse.

Enter the ancient Mayan world of jungle-draped stone cities with soaring pyramids and broad plazas gleaming in the tropical sun. Experience cunning plots and intrigue, shamanic curses, dazzling rituals, and the bizarre Maya Underworld.

Brimming with vibrant detail and extraordinary characters that are seamlessly woven into the historical tapestry, The Controversial Mayan Queen is a rich and captivating treasure told by an astute storyteller.

In a short parallel story, modern archeologist Francesca pursues the identity of a crimson female skeleton found by her team at Palenque, seeking links with the ancient dynasty. Her grandmother gives her a cryptic message to listen to the lightning in her blood and discover her own real identity.

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Sarcophagus of The Red Queen, Temple XII

Burial mask of The Mayan Red Queen

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Silver Medal for The Mayan Red Queen


The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque received the Global Ebook Silver Medal Award in Fiction-Historical Literature-Ancient Worlds for 2016.

 silver-medal-gebaIt was an exciting moment when I received the notice in August that my book won a Silver Medal in the Dan Poynter Global Ebook Awards for 2016!

This story, Book 3 in the Mists of Palenque Series, is about the historic Mayan woman who became known as “The Red Queen.”

What we know about her is limited. Archeologists discovered her tomb at Palenque in 1994, her skeleton completely permeated by cinnabar, a form of mercuric oxide that leaves a red residue. The Mayas used cinnabar as a preservative, but only for bodies of elite nobles and rulers. Her burial was richly adorned with jade, shells, beads, and artifacts of bone or ceramic, and her face covered by a jadeite mask. They determined that she lived in the mid-seventh century CE, died around age 60, and must have been highly regarded because of her interment inside a large stone sarcophagus.

Mask of Red Queen - Jade and Jadeite

Mask of Red Queen – Jade and Jadeite

Later  research determined that she came from a nearby city and was unrelated to the ruling family of Palenque. When hieroglyphs were deciphered at Palenque, we learned that she was married to the famous ruler K’inich Janaab Pakal in 626 CE, bore him three or four sons, and died in 672 CE. Her memorial pyramid adjoined the soaring Temple of the Inscriptions in which Pakal was buried. Because of her red skeleton, she was called “The Red Queen” by archeologists. Her Mayan name was Tz’aakb’u Ahau, “Maker of a Progression of Lords.” And she certainly did produce a succession of lords, as two of her sons became rulers after Pakal’s death, and a third son fathered the next ruler, Pakal’s grandson.

These scant facts underlie my story about Tz’aakb’u Ahau, whom I give the birth name Lalak. Fleshing out her personality, her hopes and fears, her emotions, and choices she made through her life was my challenge as a writer of historical fiction.

Lalak in my story lived over thirteen centuries ago, but her yearnings and challenges would sound familiar to modern women. She wanted to fit into her new city, find acceptance by her new family, fulfill her obligations in life, and most of all, win the heart of her new husband. What makes Lalak’s situation different is that she faced an arranged marriage with the most powerful young ruler in that Maya region, who just happened to be in love with someone else. Lalak was immediately attracted to him and loved him deeply, but he remained distant. She learned that her mother-in-law had banished the woman he wanted; choosing Lalak as his wife in the hope he would never love her – a homely, shy, and naive girl. Lalak came from a small outlying city, and although she had pristine blood lines making her eligible for such a match, her childhood was chaotic due to family enmities and she lacked preparation for high court protocols and intrigues.

Tz'aakb'u Ahau The Red Queen Wife of Pakal, called Lalak in this story

Tz’aakb’u Ahau
The Red Queen
Wife of Pakal, called Lalak in this story

Poorly equipped to meet such challenges, Lalak struggled to find her place and understand the dynamics of Palenque’s ruling family. She suffered under her mother-in-law’s criticism and faced repeated losses through miscarriages. She must grow from a naive and innocent girl into a strong woman capable of fulfilling a queen’s role. Her quest to find a way into Pakal’s heart required developing her feminine powers and expanding her wisdom, assuming her rightful status by facing down her mother-in-law and gaining respect from the sophisticated nobles of her city.

As Lalak‘s story unfolds against the rich backdrop of the Maya Classic Period, you will be immersed in fascinating aspects of Maya culture. There are frightening Underworld journeys where Death Lords hover, calendar rituals requiring the ultimate offering of one’s own blood, and use of sexual alchemy to resurrect lost portals to the Gods and Ancestors. Details of daily life contrast with the dazzling opulence of high court rituals, herbal and healing lore mixes with the sensuous dance and gastronomic delights of feasts, and the amazing advanced knowledge the Mayas had about building construction and astronomy is revealed.

The Queens of Palenque

I became fascinated by women rulers, “queens” in European context, when visiting the ruins of Palenque. This popular tourist destination is set in deep in tropical jungles of Chiapas, Mexico, partway up a high mountain range. Palenque is perhaps the most beautiful, artistically rich, and mystical of Maya sites and contains a huge number of hieroglyphs. These intriguing glyphs of Classic Mayan language provide one of the most complete dynastic histories, carved on panels, tablets, and painted on ceramics. I was enthralled by seeing the Red Queen’s tomb and sarcophagus, and found a book in Spanish while living in Merida called La Reina Roja by Adriana Malvido. Adriana is a Mexican journalist who covered the story of the archeological team that uncovered this hidden tomb in Temple XIII. Fortunately, I read and speak Spanish, and this gem gave me invaluable background. Following leads in the book, I researched the four great queens who the team considered candidates for this burial:  Yohl Ik’nal, the grandmother of Pakal; Sak K’uk, the mother of Pakal; Tz’aakb’u Ahau, the wife of Pakal; and K’inuuw Mat, the daughter-in-law of Pakal. I was inspired to write the stories of these four queens, possibly the most powerful women in the Americas, but unknown outside of archeological circles. A lot more study, field trips, and research both in Mexico and the U.S. were required to set their stories in historical context. Three books are finished and published as ebooks; the fourth is in process. My plan is to also publish them as print books, and Book 1 (Yohl Ik’nal) will be released on November 1, 2016!

The Palace Tablet Janaab Pakal on left, Kan Joy Chitam in center, Tz'aakb'u Ahau on right

The Palace Tablet at Palenque
Janaab Pakal on left, Kan Joy Chitam in center, Tz’aakb’u Ahau on right

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The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque — Book 3

Readers say:

“This is historical fiction at its best, a mesmerizing tale that transforms an archeological mystery into a complex and fascinating flesh and blood woman.”

“This is a novel that beautifully blends history and fiction in an unforgettable story with a mesmerizing and powerful female protagonist.”






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The Mayan Red Queen – Midwest Book Review

Midwest Book ReviewThe Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque review by Diane Donovan, Editor and Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review, November 1, 2015

Young Mayan ruler K’inich Janaab Pakal is marrying the shy, retiring Lalak, whose only inclination towards royalty lies in her lineage. Happier with animals than with people, she would seem an unlikely candidate to become a ruler; but an overly possessive mother-in-law has chosen Lalak just because she’ll be no threat to her role in her son’s life – unlike the woman she banished, who was Pakal’s true love.

As Lalak struggles with her evolving relationships with son and mother-in-law, she also comes into her own abilities, which go beyond serving as breeding material for Pakal’s lineage. When he embarks on a spiritual quest to rebuild a connection to the gods, she discovers a sexual mysticism that will change not just their relationship, but the world.Red Queen face closeup

Fast forward to modern times, when an archaeologist uncovers clues to her heritage in the course of her research and embarks on a journey to discover more. As Lalak discovers that the ‘veil’ that clouds her true abilities is one of self-doubt and suspicion, so Francesca finds the parallels in history that will lead her to accept her own connections to an ancient Mayan heritage.

Field journals written by Francesca Nokom juxtapose nicely with Lalak’s evolving world and as Francesca closes in on the true identity of the Red Queen of Palenque, an endeavor that has taken ten years of hard research, so she makes personal discoveries about her rich world’s real influences.

Detailed accounts of archaeological processes punctuate the story line and provide a realistic feel to the progression of events. The attention to contrasting ancient and modern Mexican settings is also well done and adds depth and meaning to overall events, while Martin takes time to detail the methods of investigation that are involved in archaeological research.

Oracles and divine visions, priests and priestesses, goddesses and oracles, and ancient medicines that can repel malevolent forces:  all these are drawn together in a clear portrait of ancient Mexico and the lush jungles surrounding Palenque .

It should be noted that this is Book Three of a series and concludes with an open ending inviting Book Four; but it also stands well on its own and assumes no prior familiarity with the series. Under Martin’s hand the Mayan world and its underlying influences come alive, making for a thriller highly recommended for readers who also enjoy stories of archaeological wonders.

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Yohl Ik’nal Wins Writer’s Digest Award

Writers Digest Award 2014The first book in the Mists of Palenque Series about Mayan queens won a Writer’s Digest Award for self-published eBooks in 2014.

The Controversial Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque received Honorable Mention in the Mainstream/Literary Fiction category.

Final Cover Yohl IkNal_DD

The judge’s commentary:

“In The Visionary Mayan Queen by Leonide Martin we are presented with a story that is fully imagined yet as real as the ancient past that it gives voice to once again.  In reading it, we find that the historical fact of the world’s societies makes them not so different from the ideas and struggles we see playing out all around us today.  The title seems to this reader to be a perfect introduction to the character(s) and setting of the book. . . The overall design of the book is appealing with a striking cover image for the book that gest the reader in the right thematic and tonal frame of mind for the story that comes.  The characters here are fully realized, vivid and alive, and often do surprising things. . . or say things that are very human, which can be rare.  The chapters are nicely paced, with enough meat to make them satisfying but not so ponderous as to make it difficult to keep track of the narrative as it develops.  I like especially the way the novel weaves fact with speculation without ever seeming heavy handed.  The reader is able to understand the truth of these people’s lives and struggles while also welcomed in to a conception of the world that is bigger than anything they might have expected  or experienced before.” – Judge, 2nd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards


Mists of Palenque Series

Book 2:  The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K’uk of Palenque (June, 2014)

Book 3:  The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque (anticipated publication June 2015)

Book 4:  The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque (planned for early 2016)




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Sak K’uk Story Reaches Amazon Top 100 Kindle Books

Sak K’uk, second Mayan woman ruler of Lakam Ha (Palenque)

 A young queen rises to meet her destiny in this gripping saga set in the ancient Maya world. After an attack leaves her people without a leader or a portal to the Gods, Sak K’uk’s visions guide her to the throne as the city’s second female ruler.  – BookBub

Sak kuk Final Cover eBook(1)Today The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K’uk of Palenque reached Amazon Kindle Top 100 books! It rose to #4 in Kindle Free Store, #1 in Kindle Historical Fiction, #1 in Kindle HF/Romance/Ancient Worlds and is still holding high ranking. This is day 2 of a 5-day free book promotion; rather an amazing experience.  The book remains FREE until 11:59pm EST on 8-31-14.

The story of Sak K’uk, second woman ruler of Palenque (Lakam Ha), takes place during the darkest times in the city’s history.  She was the daughter of Yohl Ik’nal, first woman ruler, who secured the throne for their family dynasty.  Sak K’uk’s brother succeeded but proved a weak, ineffectual leader.  The people were disgruntled and the nobles contentious, a set-up for a sneak attack by regional power rival Kalakmul (Kan).  Yohl Ik’nal had successfully repulsed a prior Kan attack, but without her visionary abilities Lakam Ha remained unprepared.  The results were disastrous:  Kan invaded the heart of Lakam Ha and desecrated its most sacred shrine.  Using dark shamanic spells, Kan destroyed the sacred portal to Gods and ancestors that Lakam

Sak K'uk, daughter of Yohl Ik'nal, Ahau of Palenque

Sak K’uk, daughter of Yohl Ik’nal, Ahau of Palenque

Ha rulers relied on.

Sak K’uk’s young son, Janaab Pakal, saw the portal collapse.  He was an extraordinary child with visionary abilities and uncanny intelligence.  Sak K’uk knew that Pakal was destined to ascend the throne and become the greatest ruler of their city.  The “axing” of Lakam Ha during the Kan attack changed everything.  In the chaos and confusion that followed, both danger and opportunity hovered.  The people were leaderless, buildings and shrines were in ruin, crops damaged, and the all-important portal no longer existed.

Sak K’uk was compelled to take action, though she knew many nobles opposed her.  She could not take charge of the situation without some extraordinary help – and she sought it in a desperate vision quest into the Underworld.  There she faced her greatest fears, encountered hungry Death Lords and the Primal Serpent, and was propelled up the Wakah Chan Te, the Jeweled Sky Tree whose roots were in the Underworld, trunk in the Middleworld, and branches in the Upperworld.  In the starry sky of Gods and ancestors, she met Primordial Goddess Muwaan Mat who promised to co-rule with her until Pakal was old enough to ascend.

Palace at Palenque

Palace at Palenque

In this factually based historical fiction novel, discover how Sak K’uk and her son Pakal team up to restore their city.  Their heroic efforts to overcome challenges from dissident nobles and to communicate with the Gods after the portal collapsed brings you deeply into Mayan esoteric and shamanic knowledge.  This process forges a strong bond between them, as Pakal grows into an accomplished young ruler, which proves to be both a blessing and a curse.

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Sak K’uk – The Controversial Queen of Palenque

Sak K'uk, daughter of Yohl Ik'nal, Ahau of Palenque

Sak K’uk, daughter of Yohl Ik’nal, Ahau of Palenque

Controversy about who became ruler of Palenque after Aj Ne Ohl Mat


In 611 CE, Palenque (Lakam Ha) suffered a devastating defeat by Kalakmul (Kan).  The two cities were enemies for years and had skirmished frequently.  In the 611 attack, Kalakmul destroyed the Sak Nuk Nah (White Bone House) , the most sacred shrine of Palenque and left the city in chaos.  The current ruler, Aj Ne Ohl Mat was captured and killed.  What happened next in Palenque succession is surrounded by mystery and controversy.

In the “king list” put together by Simon Martin & Nicolai Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens (2000) the next ruler is Muwaan Mat.  This ancestral deity and progenitor of Palenque’s three supernatural patrons ruled for 3 years, and was unable to perform full rituals at the end of the 9th Katun.  They suggest that the god’s name was a pseudonym for a new queen called Sak K’uk, mother of K’inich Janaab Pakal who ascended in 615.


Leading Palencophiles David & George Stuart took a different stance in Palenque: Eternal City of the Mayas (2008).

They think Muwaan Mat was male, both as a deity from creation mythology and as a short-time ruler.  He took the god’s name because of Palenque’s troubled times, to demonstrate a parallel situation of creating a new political order (akin to the creation of the current era).  Previously, scholars such as Linda Schele and David Freidel had thought Muwaan Mat was an alternative name for Sak K’uk.

Muwaan Mat Name Glyph

Muwaan Mat Name Glyph

The most incisive view comes from Gerardo Aldana in The Apotheosis of Janaab Pakal (2007).  He analyzes the argument of Schele and Freidel and dismisses their inference that Sak K’uk became the next ruler.  Aldana did his own readings of glyphs in the Temple of the Inscriptions, concluding that Muwaan Mat as the primordial female deity did take “charge of the city’s ceremonial needs while no suitable mortal ruler was available.”

Sak K'uk Name Glyph

Sak K’uk Name Glyph








The glyphs say:

On the back of the ninth katun, god was lost; ahau (lord) was lost.

She could not adorn the Lords of the First Sky; she could not give offerings. . .

Muwaan Mat could not give their offerings.  Muwaan Mat gives the bundle of her god.


Perhaps she could not perform full rituals due to her lack of mortality, or because the portal to the gods collapsed when the sacred shrine was destroyed.  Sak K’uk was an ahau but not a human ruler in the same sense as her predecessors.  In my story of Sak K’uk, she invokes the goddess Muwaan Mat to co-rule with her until Pakal can assume the throne.  His mission is to restore the collapsed portal so Palenque can again “adorn the gods” and give proper gifts.

Sak kuk Final Cover eBook(1)


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Yohl Ik’nal: The Visionary Mayan Queen of Palenque


Final Cover Yohl IkNal_DDJust published Kindle ebook


Records of Mayan civilization and history show that Yohl Ik’nal was one of a very small number of Mayan women who carried a full royal title and ruled in her own right.  She acceded to the throne of Palenque (Lakam Ha) in 583 CE and reigned for a full term of twenty-one years.  Archeologists believe that she was probably the daughter of the previous ruler Kan Bahlam I, who died without leaving a male heir.  The Maya were initially thought to prefer patrilineal descent, but later research showed that their rulership system is complex with regional variations.  For example, at Tonina rulership was not hereditary and rulers were elected from within elite nobles of the city.  Mayan kings often had long lives and produced several children, whose descendants were of royal blood and frequently contended for rulership.  There is clear evidence that women passed the right to rule to their husbands and sons at several sites, including Palenque, Tikal and Naranjo.My novel The Visionary Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque is based on extensive research of Mayan history and culture.  I was inspired to portray her as a visionary Mayan queen by Gerardo Aldana’s comment in his book The Apotheosis of Janaab’ Pakal:  “Her rule must have been impressive, for it withstood attacks from two Usumacinta-region neighbors .  . allowing her to remain

Yohl Ik'nal image carved on side of sarcophagus of Janaab Pakal, Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque

Yohl Ik’nal image carved on side of sarcophagus of Janaab Pakal, Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque

in power for longer than her contemporaries in the region.”  She certainly was a remarkable woman, the first Mayan queen ruling in her own right a full term, preserving the Bahlam dynasty of her father.How might she have attained the throne, withstood two attacks, retained her power and continued the dynasty?  In my story, she does this through her exceptional visionary abilities.  She developed visionary powers in early childhood, including shamanic journeying and prophecies, and strengthened these throughout her life.  Mayan rituals are well documented, and we know from numerous inscriptions that rulers went into altered states of consciousness to invoke the “Vision Serpent.”  They used self-inflicted blood letting and hallucinatory substances to enter trance states, in which they envisioned deities and ancestors emerging from the Vision Serpent’s mouth.  The picture below depicts a Mayan queen, Lady Xoc of Yaxchilan, having a vision of an ancestor emerging from the serpent’s mouth to bring her a prophetic message.

Lady Xoc of Yaxchilan receives message from ancestor emerging from mouth of Vision Serpent

Lady Xoc of Yaxchilan receives message from ancestor emerging from mouth of Vision Serpent

Few Mayan books propel readers into the living world of the ancient Mayans.  This historically based novel brings Yohl Ik’nal and her people authentically to life in extravagant court ceremonies, exotic rituals in Mayan temples, political maneuvering, battles and revenge, and intimate personal relationships.  Enter this world and discover how the Visionary Mayan Queen fulfilled her destiny.amazonkindle-logo-SM

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New Blog Post

Look for new blog posts about the release of “The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque.”

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Mayan Queens – Women Rulers

Mayan Queens Who Shaped History

Woman on Throne El-Mirador-pottery-painting Powerful women who shaped history hold special fascination for me.  In the era of patriarchy, how did they attain and apply leadership?  Mayan women rulers are the focus of my new novel, Mists of Palenque: Four Great Mayan Queens of Lakam Ha.  During the Classic Maya period (250-900 CE), we have records of several women who either ruled in their own right, or managed the throne until their sons came of age.  My story based in Palenque (ancient Lakam Ha) takes you into the living world of this fascinating high culture.  Royal succession was not strictly patrilineal, though descent through the male line was preferred.  Most important was the purity of lineage, tracing back to the founder of each dynasty.  At times this meant a ruler’s daughter was the choice for succession, as happened when England’s Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne after her father King George V died with no male heirs.

Mayan Succession at Palenque

At Palenque, the first women ruler was Yohl Ik’nal, the only surviving child of prior ruler Kan Bahlam I.  Her daughter Sak K’uk ascended after the death of an older brother.  Controversy surrounded both these accessions, because it changed the patrilineal pattern.  Some argue that the lineage shifts to the queen’s husband.  But this depends on how the continuing dynasty is titled.  In England’s case, her father George’s Windsor dynasty was considered to continue through Elizabeth.  In Palenque, Yohl Ik’nal continued the Bahlam dynasty.  When the royal daughter’s husband assumes the throne, then the dynasty shifts to his family.  In both cases, these queens’ husbands were royal consorts, not kings.

Other Women Rulers

Records carved on monuments give evidence of women rulers:  Lady of Tikal, Lady Six Sky of Naranjo, and Lady Ik’ Skull of Yaxchilan.  The tomb of a great Maya warrior queen was uncovered in Guatemala in 2012.  Lady K’abel (Lady Snake Lord) ruled El Peru-Waka for her family from 672-692CE, the empire-building Kan (Snake) dynasty of Kalakmul.

Book Cover_MOP-small


Posted in Women Rulers/Queens

Welcome to my Maya-inspired blog

Welcome to my Maya-inspired blog.

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