Background: Ancient Angkor

Tags: Naga's Treasure

Posted in Background on August 2, 2011

My next book, The Naga’s Treasure, is almost ready for release. I have to make one last edit and also create a cover that I'm happy with.

The Naga's Treasure is a bit of a departure from my two "Journey" books. For starters, the new book is fantasy, based on the idea that the old myths and legends of ancient Angkor are true. Specifically, the book was inspired by the following tale related by the Chinese emissary to Angkor, Zhou Daguan:

“Inside the palace there is a gold tower, at the summit of which the king sleeps at night. The local people all say that in the tower lives a nine-headed snake spirit which is the lord of the earth for the entire country. Every night it appears in the form of a woman, and the king first shares his bed with her and has sex with her. Even his wives do not dare go in. At the end of the second watch, he comes out, and only then can he sleep with his wives and concubines. If for a single night this spirit does not appear, the time has come for this king to die. If for a single night he stays away, he is bound to suffer a disaster.”

Naturally, The Naga’s Treasure takes a very different (gayer) slant on on that legend. In addition to being fantasy, this book is also much more erotic than the “Journey” books.

One of the things about writing historical fantasy is that you have to try and figure out how historically accurate you're going to be. After all, if you're assuming that a nine-headed shape-shifting serpent really exists, you're not exactly sticking to accepted historical facts.

Still, I wanted to give the story as realistic a background as possible, so I still did some research. There aren't many first hand accounts of twelfth century Angkor. It seems that the court didn't keep chronicles, as later kingdoms did, or they just haven't survived. Zhou Daguan's account from the thirteenth century is one of the few documents we have about life in the Cambodian capital of the great empire of Angkor.

A Record of Cambodia: The Land and Its People makes for interesting reading. It's amazing what Zhou recorded, and what he didn't, although in fairness it appears that a good portion of his original account is lost, and what we have today may less than half of what Zhou originally wrote. There are great details, some of which can be verified as fairly accurate, some of which are clearly exaggerations.

Zhou give us glimpses into how the people lived, what they wore and how they gave birth. The only thing he says about homosexuality is:

“There are a lot of effeminate men in the country who go round the markets every day in groups of a dozen or so. They frequently solicit the attentions of Chinese in return for generous gifts. It is shameful and wicked.”

Apparently, things haven't changed much in the last 700 years.