In 'The King's last Song', Geoff Ryman creates a vivid picture of a devastated country looking to its past in the hope of creating a better future.
A group of archaeologists discover a book written on gold leaves near the Cambodian city of Angkor Wat. The document is believed to have been written by the ancient king Jayavarman and causes a stir in several circles. When the book, known as the Kraing Meas, and its guardian, Professor Luc Andrade, are kidnapped, a motoboy named William and an ex-Khmer Rhouge soldier, Map, team up to discover what happened and find their mentor.
On their journey, we learn about Map and William's histories and their places in Cambodia's past. Through Map's eyes, we see the wars fought in Cambodia and the destruction they caused. With William, we are given a glimpse of a better future and how the wars have hindered the country's progress and made young people like William weary, but still hopeful.
The story of Jayavarman punctuates the novel and it's his wisdom and enlightenment that we quickly discover is missing from William, Luc and Map's Cambodia. This portrayal of a country that has lost its way is the most harrowing and memorable element of Ryman's tale.
'The King's Last Song' is a little long and drawn out in places, but Ryman's depiction of Cambodia makes the country as much a character as the people in his tale. Flawed, but no less poignant for that.