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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Falcon at the Court of Siam

This week’s book is truly a classic. Printed and published in Thailand by Asia Books and written by well known expat resident, John Hoskin, Falcon at the Court of Siam (ISBN 974-8303-52-7) was released in 2002 and deals with the life and times in old Siam.
I reviewed this publication five years ago, and it was something of a surprise to see it back on the Bookazine shelves. However, a pleasant surprise.
I have much respect for author Hoskin, who is a well respected researcher and this shows in the attention to factual detail that he throws at the pages, despite the fact that this is a work of fiction - or rather ‘faction’!
The book takes the form of a diary or journal, complete with dates at the commencement of alternate short chapters. It is this time scale that makes you sit back and take note.
Hoskin’s use of the English language is noteworthy, in that the principal characters speak unadulterated English. Not classical “Ye Olde English” or modern hip-talk, but just a simple undated English, giving the book’s tales an immediacy that contrasts so well against the chronological dating.
The contents are not a superficial overview of times gone by, but include such concepts as promulgated by Phaulkon (Falcon) when asked what his salary should be when offered a position with the Siamese government, “Lesser men might name their price, but for me there is no sum that will satisfy. Only power. Have that and the other is either limitless or meaningless.”
In the end, it is left to the reader to decide whether Constantine Phaulkon was a soldier of fortune, an opportunist, a brilliant strategist or someone who was stupid enough to become a martyr to a cause that was not his in the first place. In the best traditions of thrillers, there is a denouement to help you decide!
The book was on the shelves with an RRP of 425 baht. To meld history and fiction in a credible way is not an easy task, but Hoskin has done this with great literary dexterity. I was glad to see that he had not attempted to give his Siamese people’s speech an “Asian” affect, as I believe that “Thaiglish” is demeaning for all concerned.
The book stands out through Hoskin’s ability to conjure up credible situations to fit in with the known historical facts. He is actually so adept at this, that you begin to wonder if somewhere along the line he had managed to come across Phaulkon’s real diary. It is only when you think again and remember the sacking of Ayutthaya around 80 years after the Phaulkon era that destroyed all written records, and that the Greek Phaulkon, even if he did keep a journal, would most probably not have written it in English anyway.
Like the fictionalized account itself, the book is timeless and I found it a totally fascinating read and one that should keep any student of ancient Thai history in discussion material for many years. Well written and researched and deserves to be well read! Definitely get it.