This is a little detour from the usual topics to talk about a book I just finished. But it’s a historical fiction novel, so it still fits.
The book is called I, The Sun, by Janet Morris.
Now, Janet Morris is one of my all time favorite authors. When I had just crossed into my teens, I had devoured The Lord of the Rings, which opened me to a new genre: fantasy. My mother, tired of being bugged for more of the same, gave me the first book in an anthology called Thieves’ World. Wow, did that open my eyes to a new world, and some rather adult themes… But I was hooked.
Especially when I read the second book in the series and met Janet’s character, Tempus in “Vashanka’s Minion”. Throughout the series and the novels that followed, her stories, for me, were the keystone of Thieves’ World. With her husband, Chris, also a great writer, the two are a superhero duo of story telling. (Chris’s narration of the audiobook version of I, The Sun is mesmerizing!) But that doesn’t even scratch the surface of all these two have done, which includes sci-fi, great music and contracting to the Department of Defense on non-lethal weapon technology.
So back to I, The Sun. This one really caught my eye because it is set in the ancient kingdom of the Hittites in the early Iron Age. I love the ancient world, and very little historical fiction has been written on this era.
The Hittites were the first to effectively smelt iron into tools and weapons, and this gave them an edge in battle. Infantry were the mainstay of armies, of course, but in this era before cavalry, the chariot ruled supreme. Unlike the 2-man chariots of their enemies, particularly the Egyptians, the Hittites drove 3-man chariots. This allowed each a driver and two warriors.
The book is about Suppiluliumas, the King of the Hittites from roughly 1344 to 1322, BC. It begins earlier in his life as a troublesome prince and details his rise, his family, conquests, diplomacy and death. The reader gets a glimpse of the interconnected world of the time, as Suppiluliumas relates his dealings with the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and more. You may recognize some of the people, including Tutankhamen, though the use of Hittite names for most of the locations might have you reaching for Wikipedia. But I like that sort of thing.
Suppiluliumas is a fascinating character. His martial campaigns greatly expanded the Hittite Empire, which had suffered some setbacks, but he also employed diplomacy and espionage. He was a prolific record keeper and the discovery of more than 30,000 cuneiform tablets in a royal archive at the palace of Hattusas in north-central Turkey included details of his life, recorded by his son.
Janet used these source materials brilliantly. Her skill as a storyteller brings to life a world so ancient as to be nearly alien to modern readers, bringing to life the values of this world and weaving in snippets of actual letters exchanged between the rulers of the great kingdoms. Of the many characters throughout the book, the only one she invented is a slave girl.
What I love most about historical fiction is that it can immerse you in times and places that most people only vaguely know of. I, The Sun brings the reader a chance to live in a world that, until now, only scholars with years of study and access to obscure records and ancient tablets could experience. Thank you, Janet, for doing the work for us.