In trips to Turkey and surrounding areas, I’ve explored the ruins of my Tesha’s hometown and capital, viewing what is left of the palaces and temples across the empire that she lived and served in. But the richest source of information about Tesha’s world comes from the archives also excavated from those ruins.
The excavated tablets cover a wide range of topics: instructions for religious rites— many of which we consider magical — as well as letters, myths, treaties, court and military procedures, and diplomatic interactions. These court records reveal an exotic time and place that nonetheless will feel familiar to readers in its human concerns and themes. The magic found in the tablets forms the basis of the fantastical threads in my stories. I give free rein to these elements in ways that the historical people believed could happen, following the “rules” embedded in their culture. So, for example, the Hittites were obsessed with curses cast by sorcerers that brought illness and other suffering. The curses in my novels function in similar ways but have an enlarged dramatic scope — which makes for great storytelling that still immerses my readers in the Hittite milieu.
I delved into that last type of divination, “lot signs,” for my latest book, Of Kings and Griffins, when the diviner must find out whether the gods will be angry or pleased if the crown prince takes the throne. That’s a fraught question to ask, especially when the hopeful ruler in question is standing right there. Hostility, insults, egos, drama! In the United States and elsewhere, we have elections; the Hittites had divinations. I discovered a surprising number of parallels when the scene began to unfold in my imagination.
Studying the available information about divinations, I sifted through symbolic phrases the diviner priestess used, such as “sin of the heart” and “the deity takes hidden anger” and “to the left of the king.” Even less clear than the spoken words was the question of what physical form the “lot signs” took. I borrowed the necessary “props” from other less obscure rites described in the tablets: small wooden and ceramic figurines wrapped with colored wool and gold bands. Such research produced a vivid opening scene for my book, incorporating both a long-ago world and psychological insights that I hope my readers will find refreshingly original.
Escape into this award-winning epic fantasy series, inspired by the historical Hittite empire and its most extraordinary queen. Of Kings and Griffins, book 3 of the Tesha series, is easily read as a standalone.
Of Kings and Griffins is available on Amazon. And from now until October 24th, the whole series is available for $4.98 through this special link! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B087JGNHF9
For more about Judith Starkston and the historical background of her novels, please visit her website.