Shors’ (Cross Currents, 2011, etc.) latest, set in 12th-century Cambodia.
The plot centers on the efforts of Khmer Prince Jayavar and his favorite wife, Ajadevi, who’ve been forced to flee to the jungle following a bloody invasion of Angkor by barbaric King Indravarman of the Chams. Seeking to restore his people to their rightful place, Jayavar plans a counterattack and amasses thousands of troops, including Siamese mercenaries, to oppose the even larger Cham contingent. Among his followers are a simple fisherman and his family and a pair of young lovers. Asal is a favored advisor of the Cham king until he falls for Voisanne, a beautiful Khmer captive who helps change his perspective about war and killing and reminds him of his own heartbreak when he was younger. Facing certain torture and death, they flee Indravarman’s stronghold to assist Prince Jayavar. Shors infuses the story with fascinating information about the ancient temple of Angkor Wat and Buddhist and Hindu cultures, but he often loses focus—and the interest of the reader—by deviating from the plot and providing entirely too much detail. The characters, who initially are appealing, begin to lose their luster long before the final battle between the Khmers and the Chams. The action comes to a standstill as the lovers engage in incessant declarations of love and meandering philosophical conversations; Indravarman’s repetitive acts of brutality soon become tedious rather than shocking; and the continuous whining by Vibol, the fisherman’s son, gets old, especially since his parents spend much of the book worrying about his self-esteem.
An ambitious attempt, but it falls short of its mark.