cover image The King's Last Song

The King's Last Song

Geoff Ryman, . . Small Beer, $16 (432pp) ISBN 978-1-931520-56-0

After thriving in science fiction (the Arthur C. Clarke Award–winning Air ), Ryman takes on the political history of Cambodia in this unsettling if overlong novel. In 2004, U.N. archeologist Luc Andrade discovers a 12th-century memoir written by Jayavarman Seven, one of the first Buddhist kings of a predominantly Hindu kingdom. While transporting the book to safety, Luc is kidnapped by a disgruntled Cambodian army lieutenant-colonel who believes the book should be returned to the people. As Luc fights to stay alive, his Cambodian friends—Map, a former Khmer Rouge murderer who now makes money hustling tourists, and William, a motorcycle taxi driver whose parents were killed during Pol Pot's regime—search for Luc and the ancient treasure. Ryman mixes his contemporary storyline with a less compelling narrative of Jayavarman, a precocious young prince turned exiled warrior king. While Luc's life story and current predicament are particularly well done, Ryman's take on Jayavarman and the development of his battle strategies can be plodding. In the end, it's the vibrant emotional lives of Luc and his friends that capture the tragic beauty of Cambodia. (Sept.)