Review: Journey to Angkor by Michael Joseph

Piero leaves his home in Taormina to go to work for a renowned naturalist in England. Unfortunately, he hadn’t reckoned on falling for the Professor’s handsome young nephew, but it seems they have only just begun to explore their mutual attraction when the Professor discovers their relationship. To avoid scandal, he sends Piero away on a mission to Indochina, to explore the region and document the things he finds there. It’s truly a chance of a lifetime for Piero, even though he doesn’t want to leave his new friend.

On the voyage to Singapore, Piero meets a mysterious Siamese gentleman who, when they meet again in Bangkok, arranges for the Italian to meet Plai, a young Siamese man who will become Piero’s guide, interpreter, and more. As the two young men explore Siam and Cambodia, they encounter stinky fruits, stingy kings, lascivious princes, and the wonders of Angkor, an ancient city unknown to Europeans of the time.

Review by Erastes

Having just read one man on erotic foreign travels, I was hoping that Journey to Angkor would be out of the same stable, but I was a little disappointed.

The copy I had originally had a real problem with punctuation and homonyms, discrete, complement, that kind of thing – but when I mentioned this to the author (always awkward when you are in communication with authors, but in this genre, it’s difficult not to be) he edited the file again and put up a fresh copy which has ironed out many of these issues. 

Putting that aside, for those who don’t care and won’t notice the grammatical problems, the fact of the matter is that nothing much actually happens. Granted, Piero travels all over the place, “taking samples”—but there’s no conflict, other than at the beginning when he’s forced away from Henry, a young man he slept with once (and is in love with—he’s one of these guys who mistakes sex for love, all the time.). There’s a small wobble towards the end when the ship ALMOST hits a rock and some bloke we never met falls overboard, but other than that, everything is just lovely. The natives are lovely, the governors are lovely, the sailors are lovely, and Piero and his fuckbuddy Plai swan around having rampant noisy sex everywhere and no one bats an eyelid. Even in a boarding house where the clientele is both male and female – no one hears or sees anything and no one suspects.

I admit I was hoping that they would run out of food, or be abandoned by their guides, or get malaria, or have an elephant tread on them, but no!

I couldn’t really work out WHY Piero had been chosen to go to Siam. The author says in his afternote that the journey closely follows a French explorer, Henry Mouhot—but Piero seems an odd choice. If it had been a case of Henry’s father wanting him out of the way, then I could understand it, but for some reason, The Royal Society thought he was the best man for the job. He’s not an explorer. He’s not a botantist, or a biologist—he’s an artist—and his brief is to collect samples of flora and fauna he’s never seen before. And seeing he came from Sicily, that would be just about anything.

This aspect of the book is very much sketched over, too. I would have been rather interested in what he found and the descriptions he uses to catalogue them, but other than some butterflies that he gets the children to catch in one village, we are just told they are “samples”, and nothing more. It could have been a plant collection book along the lines of Philipa Gregory’s Earthly Joys, but it isn’t, and this gives us no insight into the work of plant collectors. How the samples were to be preserved and packed would have been interesting to know. Instead of which we just get a travelogue where nothig much happens.

I’m afraid to say that a period in a much unexplored area of the planet – which should have enthralled me – didn’t do that for me, and that was the major disappointment.

The writing isn’t bad, and with professional editing, it could be much improved, along with the bland-nothing much happen-ness. But, for all that, it’s little more than a travelogue with many sex scenes, and–as in The White Rajah reviewed a little while back–I got similarly annoyed with the fact that Piero, who had not been anywhere other than Europe took everything in his stride. Whether it was talking to local people, experiencing the different foods and geography of the areas, or being taken in as guest by dignitaries, he didn’t seem very impressed. I’m a mid 20th century baby, and I travelled in these areas in the 80’s and I went around with my jaw on the floor most of the time.

The author has plans to continue the story of Piero and Plai, but will be following the story of the lost lover, Henry, first.

If you are really interested in this area of the world, it is probably worth a read.

Buy at Smashwords

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