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 two degrees in Classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell. She loves myths and telling stories. This has gradually gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution: to write fantasy set in the exotic worlds of the past. Fantasy and Magic in a Bronze Age World. 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. For a free short story set in her Bronze Age historical fantasy world (and a cookbook of foods in her novels), sign up for the newsletter on her website.
Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42865572-priestess-of-ishana
Priestess of Ishana is one of those novels that features a small incident and turns it into a rollicking three-four hundred page of adventure, misery, betrayal, and politics. In a basic nutshell, a shepherd and his son flee from a cave rumored to carry the curse of the underworld, and King Hattu is arrested by Grand Votary Pintep on the suspicion that he caused the curse to happen.
During this book, I felt thoroughly immersed with the main character, Tesha. She is bright, young and intelligent. Not too mention very beautiful. I found her character development strong and steady during her novel. I did feel since she was young, she makes many rash decisions that make the consequences of her choices impactful. This is rarely done since she possesses the power of Ishana, the Goddess, she is made to face the consequences of each choice she makes, whether it deals with magic or summoning the Gods.
In terms of improvement, I feel we didn’t get enough time to spend with Tesha’s mother, as I feel she would have been more inquisitive about her daughter’s actions during the novel. With Hattu, I felt as if he was Peter the Great. Both Hattu and Peter the Great realized that their kingdom and empire needed reform and a rebranding of their image. I would have liked to seen Hattu plotting new schemes because he is a smart cookie. He’s a very intelligent young man, and I think the chemistry between Tesha and Hattu worked good. I’m wondering how their chemistry will work in the second novel, seeing as their relationship will mature.
The worldbuilding was one of the best I’ve read. Judith has done her research as explained at the end of the novel. I’m really glad she did this, and this is a product of hard work and labor. I listened to the Scorpion King soundtrack while reading this. It fits the book! I wish more authors would pick the Bronze Age and do historical fantasy for this. The dialogue was excellent, and the setting itself was immersive. Congratulations on doing such a wonderful job of bringing a civilization alive that we do not know about.
I want to see more with Hattu and Tesha. I cannot wait to read more.