Review Blog

Sep 29 2014

The last king of Angkor Wat by Graeme Base

cover image

Viking, 2014. ISBN 9780670077151.
(Age: all) Highly recommended. Cambodia, Myths and legends, Elephants. Each of the four animals sitting amongst the ruins of Angkor Wat, a tiger, a gecko, a water buffalo and a gibbon, thinks he would have made a great king of the city, displaying the attributes needed for kingship: strength, compassion, perseverance and bravery. But an elephant behind them asks them to prove themselves worthy by going to the temple at the top of the hill.
Each heads off, vowing to the first to get to the temple, but along the way each comes across a hurdle to overcome. Each deals with their hurdle differently, allowing the elephant at the finish line to tell them that none of them passed the task set. Each had failed in some way to combine all of the attributes needed for leadership.
Only one animal combines all the attributes needed for kingship and his statues abound in the Angkor Wat ruins, as the four find when they think about what had just happened, and look around the ruins for themselves.
Base's illustrations are most recognisable and he puts his talents to illustrate this legend in a way which enhances and expands the story. Framed illustrations almost fill each double page, with plants and animals spilling out under the text, adding a feeling of menace when the overhang is a large snake, or compassion at the plight of the wounded crane.
No reader can escape the beauty of this World Heritage site in Cambodia, as presented by Base. His illustrations of the place are stunning, the details inviting the reader to look much more closely, seeing parallels to the story in the frames, and marveling at the number of times elephants make an appearance, encouraging the reader to ponder why the elephant is the king of the beasts. A page of information about Angkor Wat completes the handsomely presented book which will be a delight for readers of all ages.
Fran Knight

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