After a group of archaeologists find the Golden Book (Kraing Meas), high-ranking officials and the United Nations are all trying to get their hands on it. French archaeologist Prof. Luc Andrade is assigned to protect the book, but it is stolen and the professor abducted.
With Prof, Andrade has won the loyalty of two Cambodians who join hands in rescuing the professor and recovering the Golden Book.
Tan Map is an ex-Khmer Rouge soldier who, after losing many of the people he loves, becomes bitter and is hated and feared in equal measure. William, on the other hand, is a young motodop whose friendliness charms everyone. These two obvious opposites come together in a quest to save Cambodia’s greatest royal treasure and their beloved French pal.
Although some of the names and events are familiar from history, The King’s Last Song is semi-fictional. Author Geoff Ryman bases his story on a range of historical sources such as the first-hand account of the Angkor period by Chinese envoy Chou Ta-Kuan, old Khmer dictionaries, traditional Khmer stories and folktales, bas-reliefs on Khmer temples, and more. Ryman mixes in fictional events to add flavor to the narrative.
For instance, Jayavarman was in fact not a name but a title bestowed on the ancient King. Therefore, the author gives him a personal, Old Khmer name. He applies this to historical figures mentioned such as Jayarajadevi and Indradevi.
The novel switches between two periods of time: the reign of Jayavarman VII and modern Cambodia (1960s-2000s). Even though some parts are purely fictional, readers are still able to learn a lot about the history of Cambodia during the two time periods.
The King’s Last Song is not Ryman’s first book based on Cambodia. His first, published in 1985, was The Unconquered Country. The King’s Last Song was published in 2007, followed by Paradise Tales and Other Stories in 2011.
Ryman was inspired to write The King’s Last Song after his visit to an Australian archaeological dig at Angkor in 2000. Since then, he has paid regular visits to Cambodia, and taught writing in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.