It will be the cruellest war ever waged, and the Gods will gather to watch…
1275 BC: Tensions between the Hittite and Egyptian Empires erupt and the two great superpowers mobilise for all-out war. Horns blare across the Hittite northlands and the dunes of Egypt rumble with the din of drums as each gathers an army of unprecedented size. Both set their eyes upon the border between their domains, and the first and most important target: a desert city whose name will toll through history. Kadesh!
Prince Hattu has lived in torment for years, plagued by the memory of his wife’s murder. Thoughts of her poisoner, Volca the Sherden – for so long safe and distant by Pharaoh Ramesses’ side – have sullied his dreams, blackened his waking hours and driven him to commit the darkest of deeds. Now that war is here, he at last has the chance to confront his nemesis and have his vengeance.
But as the ancient world goes to war, Hattu will learn that the cold, sweet kiss of revenge comes at a terrible price.
Thank you to Gordon for providing me with an ARC. These are my thoughts and opinions.
This is a wonderful, dazzling novel that puts you in one of the most epic battles of the Bronze Age Era. Thunder at Kadesh. The title is very apt. Cinematic visuals combined with excellent prose make you immersed in a well researched, well written historical world that comes alive to you. I always love historical fiction that focuses on the Bronze Age Era, especially Egypt, and Mesopotamia. I wish more fantasy would pick this up as a setting.
The Ancient Near East as you will know by its modern name today, the Middle East, is still a hotbed of conflict that hasn’t shown any signs of stopping. Consider this book as a prelude, a sort of history’s warning so to say. Before the days of the Romans and the Greeks, two massive empires in the Levant battled out for supreme dominance in the region of Ancient Syria. Or in those times, regions that were ruled by the Hittites. Both Egypt and the Hittites were gearing up for a battle that would rattle the backbones of both empires.
This map easily illustrates the situation to say:
Now you might be wondering, that’s all fine and good, but how does this factor into everything that happened at Kadesh? Quite simply put, Egypt had been under the rule of the Hyskos for quite a while. And they managed to throw the yoke of the tyrants that the Hyskos were. The Egyptians, quite possibly embarrassed at this national humiliation resolved to rebuild their empire to the glory it once was. Under Thutmose I, the Egyptian Empire had reached its furthest extent to Canaan. The days of those times however were gone. Seti I expanded his armies into the provinces as shown in Green. The Egyptians were keen to bring back the days of the Tutmosid Kings that had expanded their empire so gloriously. To bascially put this into perspective: peace was made with the Hittites and so the Egyptians had a gala time conquering small-time kingdoms. They were the old kids on the block that were aiming to bring back their old glory. Lo and behold, the city of Kadesh lies in both camp’s interest. The conflict resolves and that is when you get Seti I first dying, and his son Ramesses II (Yes, that Ramesses the Great) wanting to defeat the Hittites.
That’s the historical point of context from what we can gather here. Gordon is an expert historian and superb at his research. He spent a lot of time studying both sides, their military, and the way their society functioned. His depiction of chariot warfare is perhaps one of the best ways I’ve seen it written. Chariot warfare is not easy to write, because we don’t have that many records of how people would fight them. Now you might say, well that’s not true as we have records, yes, true. But chariots were the tanks of their days. A chariot rider would have had at least two warriors beside him also including that they had to protect him. Or get sliced under the wreckage should chariots collide with one another. There is brutal combat in this book.
And lo and behold, we have the Trojans! They make a welcome appearance in this book. And by the Gods, they make an excellent debut. They are powerful and vicious warriors. I won’t say their names but you will soon realize where they come from. I do like the hint that Gordon put here because they were the vassals of the Hittites. The characters in this novel are staggering. Each character feels three-dimensional and each of them has an actual motive. You’ve got Hattu obsessed with Volca, who was bascially responsible for killing Seti I, his wife, and many other innocent people.
And Volca’s a Sherden, one of the Sea Peoples that were involved in this fight. You tend to sympathize more with the Hittites and you see that the Egyptians when they are forced to become brutal, become brutal. I was disappointed that we did not see more of Ramesses’s son, Khepe. I would have wanted more scenes with him. Ramesses the Great, however, is a brutal man that you would never wish to offend in real life. His grand advisors and priests are the most corrupt force behind him. I believe. But if it was for anything, Egypt’s downfall came at the hand of its priesthood long into the Greek and Roman days.
The landscapes in this novel are very unique. The Empire of Bronze Series has been building up to this monumental battle at Kadesh. I think Hattu was too mewling, obsessed with killing Volca that it ruined his health. There are many Godly interventions written in this novel that are also well done. When I mean interventions, think of them as omens so to say. The Battle of Kadesh is written on such a magnificent scale that this novel could have been longer. I felt we spent too much time on the development of both armies building up their resources, gathering their allies, and then going for the final battle. Because Kadesh is bascially going like this: The Hittites spot the Egyptians too early. They attack. The Egyptians retreat. Ramesses leads a stiff-counter attack. The Hittites outnumber the Egyptians, they send more troops. They loot the Egyptian camp. Ramesses’s reinforcements arrive and the battle becomes a stalemate for now. While Egyptian records state that they won, Hittite records have also stated that they too won. That’s my basic understanding of what happened at Kadesh. I do hope I haven’t made a mistake!
And if you want an image to see how brutal this battle was, Gordon does a fantastic job in bringing it alive. It was truly a terrible battle. You’ll march through deserts, wonder in the palaces of both Hittite and Egyptian, and see the Gods in their full might. You’ll witness thirty thousand warriors on both sides, clashing swords while chariots collide and crunch at each other, generals and warriors boasting on both sides and taunting each other. You’ll see Prince Hattu prove his worth on the battlefield, and trying to correct a terrible mistake that led to Kadesh. You will see a lion cub soon becoming powerful…(and that’s a hint you’ll discover.) It is such a refreshing book, that I wish more fantasy was based on the Bronze Age. It was a time of great battles, wonderful achievements, yet a truly brutal era to live in. You will feel as if you are in this world. Amazing description, breathtaking cinematic battle scenes, and wonderful characterization.
It’s a 10/10 for me.