Jaguar Princess: The Last Maya Shaman Kindle Edition
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As the story unfolds we learn that Chanla Pex is not only descended from Maya royalty, but also is training with her grandmother to be a Shaman. The story takes place in the jungles and cities of Yucatan, in the Mojave Desert mining country, in Texas, and in Spain. So you know you are in for a wild ride.
Ms. Johnson relies on her experience as a pilot for realistic flying scenes. She has thoroughly researched archeology, gem mining, the Yucatan, and Mayan civilization and Spanish history for this story. The addition of all these facts made it both an interesting and educational story. I appreciate the facts that are woven into the story. When Ms. Johnson describes archeology, the jungle, the cave scenes, or desert mining, you are right there with her. When she’s flying, you can feel it. When Chanla Pex is in dangerous situations, you root for her to use everything in her arsenal: her mystical powers, her knowledge, and strong will to survive to accomplish her goals. She overcomes every obstacle in her way to becoming an archeologist. She experiences both the loss and gain of family and the love of a life partner as she matures and makes her place in the world.
I highly recommend this book to young adults and adults. I’ve read Ms. Johnson’s “Lost Jade of the Maya,” which continues Chanla Pesh’s story, and I will review that next.
By Marjorie Bicknell Johnson. Infinity Publishing Co., 2011
Marjorie Bicknell Johnson has written a rich contemporary historical novel, with intertwining themes of loss, betrayal, rebirth, and reward, primarily set in the Yucaáan at Maya archaeological sites. The book is well timed for reading, with the end of the Maya Long Count (b'aktun) Calendar December 21, 2012, a favorite of doomsday folks. And the November 9, 2012 Science report by Baldini and colleagues in study of cave stalagmites in the Yok Balum Cave in the Maya lowlands of Belize, gives clues to the political collapse of the Maya political system from global warming a thousand years ago, suddenly pertinent topic today.
We are early introduced to Chanlajun Pex (pronounced Pesh, meaning little one), a girl who is unaffectedly the sole descendent of an ancient Maya King, as she drops from the trees among her k'ubul bird companions, to meet the American professor Dr. Burt Wallace. She can tell him how to begin to read the puzzling Maya stone glyphs, leading to a long friendship and a college scholarship for Pex to the University of Merida.
A parallel story is developed from the outset, when a Pex ancestor Nachi Aj Itz'aat, high priest who befriended the Spaniard Fray Diego de Landa for a decade (all fact), is now in 1562 witness to the massive burning of thousands - virtually all - Maya Codex books, but he manages to save a key volume (presumed similar to the Popol Vuh, the bible of Maya today) as he slits his throat and leaps into the fiery inferno. The Spanish got the gold; the Maya lost their civilization in a single moment.
A modern-day wannabe conquistador, Hernando Torres Villareal in Castilla, Spain, contracts a notorious scuba diver, Jaimie Requeral Ortega, on the run from murdering his wife, to plunder the rivers and caves that connect the myriad of cenotes (giant vertical limestone sink holes) underground in the Yucaáan where he has reason to believe much sequestered Maya gold yet remains undiscovered.
Pex meets her young friend, Kedar Herold, as he rescues her in his Cessna hydroplane in the jungle; they romantically stumble upon Nachi's Codex at the apex of a temple. On an exploration of Maya temple ruins, which have Fibonacci patterns of stone work and layout design, she follows her instincts instead of logic, and goes after an exit hole atop a huge mound that bats have swarmed out of. She sticks her head into the hole, then her flashlight, then her body, loses the flashlight, and finds herself sliding down the slippery slope to the darkness of a river cave. The combination of math - not only is the biological logic of honeybee math explained, but how to count in Maya glyphs - unobtrusively present - and our young woman sliding down an animal hole to a strange world is evocative of Lewis Carroll's' Alice in Wonderland.
She is fulfilling her destined future to become a Shaman, which her grandmother foretold (to avoid remaining in an underground cave all night) but she must survive her immediate confrontation with Ortega, who has scuba dived to the same spot, by the underground river system. To quote their confrontation, "She yelled in Yucatec, "Ba'aba'al! Evil-smelling-devil! A voice called out, "Conquistador...conquistador."
The reader is quite frightened at this point, but it's the beginning of a series of white-knuckling, irresistible passages. Particularly interesting was her leading Kedar through the jungle out of ancient Maya road traps to the hydroplane, where she exercises her new Shaman's powers to bring forth crocodiles to save the day. Just when the Spaniard has closed rank, Kedar ducks under the empennage of the Cessna onto the other pontoon, and then they lift off just before hitting the rapids.
Interspersed in the novel are chapters on meeting up with and negotiating with modern day Yucaáan Mayan tribes people, of flying with Kedar to his mother Isolde's gems and minerals "mine" cave in the Mohave Desert, getting through anxious moments with the US Customs, and travel to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
A chapter with Pex and a girl friend at a modern Yucatan shopping mall is memorable, especially Jorge's gift shop. There he has designed fantastic necklaces with tourmaline crystals with red flashing inner spider webs which he dubbed "Love Webs," which later can present an outlet for Isolde's Mohave gems. It's their imperfections that make for the dazzle.
The role of Kedar, a major figure in Mrs. Bicknell-Johnson's previous novel, Bird Watcher (Infinity Publishing Co., 2007), is a transformation of character, where he was a hapless young teen duped by terrorists intent on blowing up the Hoover Dam. But rescued by Isolde in the desert, then adopted and educated, he is the young romantic hero of Jaguar Princess.
Rescue of a major Maya Codex has the same value for the reader as Kedar's transformation in this wonderful tale that teaches Maya hieroglyphs and calendar calculations, rethinking the past for a better future. Recursive, i.e., repeating and folding in a new way into the future, is an exciting way to move forward in history. There is in fact precedent for Pex in the story of the MacArthur Fellowship to 18-year old David Stuart in 1982 for his studies of Mayan hieroglyphs begun at age 8 under his scientist father among Maya ruins. A story worth repeating.
Marjorie Bicknell Johnson is a founding member of the Fibonacci Association, and has been president of her local 99s (Amelia Earhart) pilots' association. She also is the editor of WritersTalk, for the South Bay Writers' Club.
I liked how the author wove in themes of religious and cultural tolerance. She also drew a connection between the ideas of burning and banning books. The most unique element, I thought, is Johnson's use of Fibonacci sequences.