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.
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.