October 2-6 Priestess of Ishana, Book 1 of the Tesha Series is available
, Book 2 of the Tesha Series launches October 14, 2019
The Queen Behind the Character
I write historical fantasy based on the Bronze Age Hittites (c. 1275 BCE)—an empire of the ancient Near East nearly buried by the sands of time. In spite of the vivid glimpses of this lost kingdom brought to light by recent archaeology and the decipherment and translation of many thousands of clay tablets, there still remain vast gaps in historians’ knowledge. To be honest about my imaginative filling of those gaps, my storytelling combines fantasy and history.
For instance, I give my historical figures fictional names, though often only minimally different from their real names. I also let the magical religious beliefs of these historical people find full expression in the action. My “quarter turn to the fantastic,” to borrow Guy Gavriel Kay’s phrase, allows me to honor what we actually know while also owning up to my inventive extensions. Allowing room for the fantastical elements suggested by Hittite culture makes for the best storytelling.
What really drew me to this forgotten kingdom—one that stretched across what’s now Turkey into Syria and down into Lebanon—was one remarkable ruler, Queen Puduhepa. She ruled for decades over the most powerful empire of the Late Bronze Age, but because the Hittites were lost to history for so long, very few people know about her.
She ruled with her husband Hattusili III as an equal partner—often, in fact, as the more active ruler when her husband’s health limited his work. Queens under Hittite law and custom had high political power and remained rulers even when their husbands died, unlike other Near Eastern queens such as Babylonian and Egyptian. Most of the Hittite queens mentioned in the written Hittite records didn’t exercise this allowed power to such an extent, but Puduhepa had the personality and drive of a highly effective leader.
In my novels the character who represents Puduhepa is named Tesha after the Hittite word for ‘dream’ because the historic woman was famous for her visionary dreams, which she believed came from the goddess Ishtar as divine guidance (a goddess renamed Ishana in my fiction). The character of her husband, Hattusili, goes by the shortened name Hattu.
Puduhepa demonstrated brilliant skills as queen in many areas: administrative, diplomatic, judicial, and familial. Her most famous accomplishment was corralling Pharaoh Rameses II into a peace treaty. Egypt and the Hittites had fought a draining war in 1274 BCE. Neither kingdom was eager for a rematch, but Hattusili and Puduhepa had an even greater need than Egypt for stability. Several of Puduhepa’s letters to Ramses survive. They reveal a subtle diplomat with a tough but gracious core that allows her to stand up to Ramses without giving offense. When the final treaty was put on public display—in the form of a solid silver plaque, which sadly does not survive, although clay versions do—Puduhepa’s own seal was on one side, her husband’s on the other. They did sometimes use a joint seal. I think it’s revealing that on this most impressive accomplishment that depended so much on Puduhepa’s talents, they chose to use equal and independent seals. Thus, Puduhepa’s role is not subsumed under her husband’s.
I could not resist using the life of this exceptional queen as the basis for my main character, Tesha, in a historical fantasy series. The first book of the series, Priestess of Ishana, opens with the moment Tesha and Hattu meet—following the known details of this historical event. There was the ever so tantalizing detail in Hittite records that accusations of sorcery were brought against Hattusili around this same time. A love story and sorcery? Irresistible! The second book in the series, Sorcery in Alpara, carries on their story with a curse that consumes armies, a court full of traitors, a clutch of angry concubines and some fantastical creatures who appear regularly in Hittite art, but may not have actually walked the earth.
Tesha and the real queen behind my character offer an intriguing model of a female leader succeeding in ways that made the world more peaceful and just. So, if you like your fiction to be a mixture of worthwhile ideas, magical fun, and a unique, ancient world, give the Tesha series a read.
About the Books
“What George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones did for the War of the Roses, Starkston has done for the forgotten Bronze Age Hittite civilization. Mystery, romance, political intrigue, and magic…” -Amalia Carosella
Priestess of Ishana
Free on October 2-6, 2019
A curse, a conspiracy and the clash of kingdoms. A defiant priestess confronts her foes, armed only with ingenuity and forbidden magic.
An award-winning epic fantasy, Priestess of Ishana draws on the true-life of a remarkable but little-known Hittite queen who ruled over one of history’s most powerful empires.
A malignant curse from the Underworld threatens Tesha’s city with fiery devastation. The young priestess of Ishana, goddess of love and war, must overcome this demonic darkness. Charred remains of an enemy of the Hitolian Empire reveal both treason and evil magic. Into this crisis, King Hattu, the younger brother of the Great King, arrives to make offerings to the goddess Ishana, but he conceals his true mission in the city. As a connection sparks between King Hattu and Tesha, the Grand Votary accuses Hattu of murderous sorcery. Isolated in prison and facing execution, Hattu’s only hope lies in Tesha to uncover the conspiracy against him. Unfortunately, the Grand Votary is Tesha’s father, a rash, unyielding man, and now her worst enemy. To help Hattu, she must risk destroying her own father.
If you like a rich mixture of murder mystery, imperial scheming, sorcery, love story, and lavish world-building, then immerse yourself in this historical fantasy series. See why readers call the Tesha series “fast-paced,” “psychologically riveting,” and “not to be missed.”
Launching October 14, 2019. Now
Sorcery in Alpara
A curse that consumes armies, a court full of traitors, a clutch of angry concubines and fantastical creatures who offer help but hate mankind.
Tesha’s about to become queen of a kingdom under assault from all sides, but she has powerful allies: her strategist husband, his crafty second-in-command, and her brilliant blind sister.
Then betrayal strips her of them all. To save her marriage and her world, she will have to grapple with the serpentine plot against her and unleash the goddess Ishana’s uncontrollable magic—without destroying herself.
“Based on historical events in the Bronze Age, Starkston wraps history and magic together in an unforgettable package.”
If you like unique world building, ancient sorcery, and mythical beasts, with richly portrayed characters and enthrallingly complex plots, then immerse yourself in Sorcery in Alpara, the second in this award-winning epic historical fantasy series.
About the Author
Judith Starkston has spent too much time reading about
and exploring the remains of the ancient worlds of the
Greeks and Hittites. Early on she went so far as to get
degrees in Classics from the University of California,
Santa Cruz and Cornell. She loves myths and telling stories.
This has gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution:
to write historical fantasy set in the Bronze Age.
Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s
Award for Historical Fiction. Priestess of Ishana won the
San Diego State University Conference Choice Award.
Judith has two grown children and lives in Arizona with her husband. She is represented by Richard Curtis. Find out more at Judith’s and find her on and . Sign up for Judith’s author for a free short story, book news and giveaways. JudithStarkston.com