Temple of a Thousand Faces
In 1177 in Angkor, Khmer (now Cambodia), Prince Jayavar and his chief wife, Ajadevi, stand on a causeway gazing at the colossal multiterraced sandstone temple, its “five towers shaped like lotus buds” ascending in a tropical forest. Suddenly, after sailing up a Mekong River tributary, a large force from neighbouring Champa (central and south Vietnam) attacks Angkor. Following a fierce battle, Jayavar and Ajadevi are forced to flee into the jungle and hide at a secret location.
Assisted by his vile henchman, Po Rame, King Indravarman of the Cham rules Khmer with terror and engages in a massive hunt for Jayavar. Indravarman also takes on a number of concubines, including a stunning Khmer beauty named Voisanne. As a reward for bravery, he gives Voisanne to Asal, one of his officers, and Asal is immediately smitten with her. After some intense encounters with the jealous Rame, Asal begins to question his allegiance to Indravarman. Meanwhile, while evading Indravarman’s warriors, Jayavar regroups his Khmer force and seeks assistance from the Siamese to recapture his kingdom.
This novel differs somewhat from John Shors’ acclaimed Beneath a Marble Sky, which centered on the construction of the Taj Mahal. Here, while the equally impressive Angkor Wat temple features in the story, the plot deals primarily with the loves, betrayals, divided loyalties, and tales of survival that played a part in the struggle for reclaiming Khmer. Furthermore, Shors’ impressive cast of characters includes some ordinary people, members of a fishing family, which enlivens his settings. Although he notes in the preface that “through necessity I’ve created many elements of this novel,” it reads very authentically, but the mention of slaves in the Hindu/Buddhist community is jarring. Written in Shors’ enjoyable style, with an eye for details of Khmer flora and fauna, this novel is destined to be a blockbuster. Highly recommended.