Book Review

The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles

I received a free copy of this book through BookTasters in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles by Ronald E. Yates is the second book in the Finding Billy Battles trilogy. It’s an exciting book full of action, adventure, exotic destinations, romance, and humor.

The book opens in 1894 as Billy is boarding an ocean liner heading for French Indochina (or what we know as Vietnam) to reunite with a friend and hopefully get some peace, but as usual, trouble always finds him. While on the long journey, Billy meets a beautiful and mysterious German Baroness who has her own share of trouble as well. Billy deals with dangerous situations throughout the book, as I’ve come to expect. Indochina is under French control and insurgents are bravely fighting to regain control of their country. Billy eventually heads back to the Philippines, where he winds up enlisted in the army at the height of the Spanish-American war, and the ensuing insurgency between the Filipino people and the American colonizers. While Billy has always gotten caught up in bad situations, around the turn of the century, these situations are now occurring on a grander scale. He finds himself caught in a web of political opportunists, spies, revolutionaries, and a collection of people of dubious character. How will he handle these challenges?

If you read my review of the first book in the trilogy (Finding Billy Battles), it’s no secret that I loved it. These books are like a history lesson, but infinitely more enjoyable. I learned a lot from this book, not only about the history of Southeast Asia, but also about the Spanish-American war. The author definitely doesn’t sugarcoat the American involvement in the area, but he manages to keep Billy’s involvement as moral as it could be during a war.

Throughout his role in the book, Billy manages to maintain his moral standards to the best of his ability. He grows and matures as well. At the beginning of the book, Billy decides to leave his life behind and manage his grief alone. He is 34, and has a small child that he left with his mother and in-laws to raise while he goes halfway across the world. But while he’s in Asia, he discovers a lot about himself and his priorities. He sees a lot of things that he doesn’t agree with, and his experiences change him. After a while, all he wants to do is go back home. His priorities change drastically during the course of the book. In the 16 years in which the book takes place, Billy changes a lot. While he’s still a bit hotheaded, he learns how to temper his emotions and become more patient, and he definitely matures.

The tone of this book is drastically different than the previous one. While Finding Billy Battles was set on United States territory, this book is mainly set abroad. At the time, the prevailing opinion among colonial territories was not favorable towards indigenous people, often viewing them as savage, primitive, and childlike. This book reflects that in many instances, although Billy himself and some other characters do not hold that view themselves.

Discrimination is rampant throughout this book, with Filipino natives often being referred to as “monkeys,” while Billy and his friends bristle at that, and treat the native islanders respectfully and as equals. Billy was a man ahead of his times, always taking the time to get to know locals, respecting their customs, attempting to learn their language, and thoroughly enjoying their foods. When he is asked about his opinion on colonization, he states: “I think the general opinion in America is that no country should dominate or colonize another,” and struggles to accept how the regime oppresses and exploits the people of the colonized country. This makes him an even more likable character in my opinion. He goes to extremes to save people that he cares about, and people who have done right by him, no matter what nationality they are and if they have the same beliefs as him.

One thing that I struggle with is the editing in this book. It could benefit from more thorough editing, as there are many errors throughout the book. One character’s name “Phan” in particular is spelled incorrectly “Pham” from one page to the next. Homophones in particular are also an issue, such as “my shirt was unbuttoned to my waste,” when it should say “waist,” and “poured through those journals,” rather than “pored. “

Aside from those errors, the book is fascinating and attention grabbing. I read through it rather quickly. The characters are enjoyable and I like the humor that is used even in fairly serious situations. The amount of knowledge displayed about the countries, food, customs, language, and people of various locales in the book is astounding. I definitely recommend this book.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 4

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