4 out of 4 stars
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The Governor’s Daughter is the first book of The Scribes of Bramadhan series by Sambath Meas. Unfortunately, it is the only book of this series available at the time I am writing this review, which is quite a shame as I was very much looking forward to continuing the story. This young adult book combines several different genres: historical fiction, mystery, and suspense. It is also one of the most refreshingly unique YA books I have read in a long time, mostly due to the historical and cultural elements that I am certain typical Americans (or other Westerners) like myself know nothing about. Seriously, when is the last time you picked up a book taking place in 1920, French-occupied Cambodia (or Cambodge, as it was named by the French) that discusses the dynamics between the native Khmer people and the post-WW1 French colonizers?
Seventeen-year-old Anjali is the daughter of an esteemed detective, and the curious young woman is fascinated by his line of work and strives to build up her own career by following in his footsteps, though her age, gender, and race are all pitted against her in the current era. So far, she is only allowed to participate in simple cases, but she wants to get involved in the international case that has spread across Southeast Asia, to fight for the victims of rape and murder. Anjali is momentarily distracted from her future career when she meets Mith, a local peasant with an interesting past who has been studying abroad in France for most of his life, and believes she has met the man of her dreams. But Mith only has eyes for Esmé, the mixed-race daughter of the French governor who (regretting his own choice to marry a woman of different race and become outcast from his own society) does not approve of his daughter being involved with such a man. When Esmé becomes the next victim, Mith is the immediate suspect, and Anjali has no choice but to step in and find a way to prove his innocence.
My above summary actually seems a bit complicated, and, to be honest, I passed on reading this book several times because I thought that I would not be able to follow the complex story-line as it is written in the book’s description. However, in reality, the plot is rather simple, easy to follow, and nicely paced. The Cambodian names and occasional French words that come up throughout the text are presented in a clear, smooth manner that makes it easy to understand, even for those of us who have absolutely no background knowledge of either of these languages or cultures. In fact, learning the history and culture of this nation was my favorite part of this book, and I’m normally not a fan of historical fiction at all.
The lessons presented in this book are timeless and extend beyond all cultural and geographical boundaries. Pre-determined hatred and judgment based on arbitrary factors such as race, social status, and economic class were daily themes in the lives of the Khmer people, and I strongly appreciated the way that such themes were presented in this text: believable, unbiased, and straight-forward. Some people might be turned off by such themes and view them as racist (I won’t go into the specific details of why I claim this, so you’ll just have to trust me), but I find it to be quite the opposite. I would love to see more representation of different races and cultures in modern literature, and The Governor’s Daughter is the perfect start. We totally need more books like this in the world.
Without further delay, I give this book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars, as I could find nothing at all to complain about. Additionally, even though I thought I didn’t care for historical fiction, this turned out to be one of the best books I have read this year, thanks to the amazing knowledge I have gained about Cambodia. I recommend this book to all fans, not just young adults, of historical fiction and mysteries.
The Governor's Daughter
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