Friday 1 February 2019

Priestess of Ishana by Judith Starkston


'This novel is Hittite historical fantasy, which is surely one of the most interesting and unique genres I’ve ever come across.'




Late Bronze Age/Hittite Empire
Ancient Near-East/Modern Turkey

Tesha is the 15 year old high priestess of the goddess Ishana, a deity of war and love. Her duties and devotion to the goddess are strong and she carries out her role faithfully at the temple, believing she knows her life’s role. Until one day, two shepherds discover the charred remains of a man’s body in a cave, who had been killed by sorcery, a crime punishable by death. When the Great King’s younger brother, Hattu, arrives to Tesha’s city to deliver a great treasure to the temple as a sign of his devotion to Ishana, he is arrested for the murder of the man in the cave. Tesha and her blind sister, Daniti, are convinced that Hattu is innocent, but their father, Pentip, the Grand Votary and High Priest, believes otherwise. Acting against her father, Tesha meticulously searches for the truth she hopes will set Hattu, with whom she shares an inexplicable bond and visions, free of his prison and save him from execution at his own brother’s command. 

This novel is Hittite historical fantasy, which is surely one of the most interesting and unique genres I’ve ever come across. This is exactly the historical fantasy novel I was looking for to round out my 2018 reading. The world-building is intricate and painstakingly drawn, which is always pleasing. The pacing has a nice blend of faster action sequences combined with complex (but not convoluted) politics and religious rites. Each character has depth and personality, some of whom you love to hate. I thought Tesha in particular was a complex person, a woman in her own right who had some power as a respected priestess, but who was also a woman in a very different and much earlier society who adhered to some patriarchal rules. It was fascinating to see her carry out her priestess duties as well as her investigation within the limits her society imposed upon her. 

Also interesting was the way in which Hattu was treated. Yes, he was a king and a nobleman, but his legal troubles were very real, not something that could be swept under the rug and ignored at a command. The legal processes Hattu, his lieutenant, and Kesha went through were all drawn from actual historical records, lending credence to the narrative. 

Magical rites and the treatment for demonic possession were also drawn directly from historical records. There is one particularly fascinating scene that Starkston says is a direct duplication of a ritual she read from an ancient record. The scene was a wonderful bit of character development, both for Tesha and for the overall narrative, and you will have to read it for yourself if you want to find out what it is! 

The excellent author’s note at the end gives further insight into both the creation of the novel itself as well as the Hittites. I think a lot of people don’t know about the Hittites at all, or else only what is mentioned about them in the Bible. But their civilization was widespread and they had enormous influence on the ancient world. They were literally lost to the sands of time and were only relatively recently rediscovered. There is still a lot we can learn about them, and frankly, learning history by way of well written fantasy novels isn’t a bad way to go. I think Judith Starkston has struck on a totally unique niche within the historical fantasy genre, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with in her next installation in the series! 

© Kristen McQuinn

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  1. Wow! Looks like one for my Reading for Pleasure pile!!! Fascinating looking subject and setting

  2. Thank you, Richard. I hope you have a great deal of fun reading my Hittite fantasy.


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