Of Kings and Griffins – an interview with author Judith Starkston

Please welcome author Judith Starkston to the blog. Her latest novel – Of Kings and Griffins – launches today. Here’s what one reader had to say about book #1 of the series: A delightful story that carried me off to a lavish, half-historical, half fantasy world. The result of the author’s mingling of fact with fantasy was a tale I didn’t want to put down.

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Mary kindly invited me to join her on her blog today to describe the historical fiction I write and how it has changed over time. In my case, the changes have been so extensive, I have ended up writing fiction that straddles two genres—historical and fantasy.

I write novels focused on the life of an extraordinary queen—which is true, of course, of a lot of historical fiction. As readers, we are eternally captivated by royal women. “My” queen, however, steps onto the page from an unusual period of history, the Hittite empire of the Late Bronze Age, and she brings along some magic.

The queen I call Tesha, (her real name was Puduhepa) first appears in the historical record around 1274 BCE. She ruled for decades over the powerful Hittite empire, stretching roughly across what’s now Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Her great rival, Ramses II, the Pharaoh in the Biblical story of Moses, is well known, but, unfortunately, Puduhepa is considerably less so, because the world of the Hittites was lost to history for so long—literally buried in the sands of time. This remarkable queen corralled Ramses II, diplomatically speaking, into a peace treaty that suited her needs far more than his. He was a notoriously arrogant bully, so that’s an immensely satisfying moment in history to me. The clay tablets of that agreement, the first extant peace treaty in history, are on display in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. This ancient female leader doesn’t get nearly the attention she deserves. My novels focus on the early part of her story as she met the great love of her life and followed a very bumpy road to power. 

Along with being, eventually, an influential queen much admired in her own time even if forgotten later, she was also a priestess who had visionary dreams from her goddess. “Tesha” in Hittite means “dream,” hence my choice of name for her. She performed elaborate rites that we would call magical. The instructions for many of these ceremonies also survive on clay tablets. They often fall into the category of “you couldn’t make this up” and provide a wild and rich source to develop the magical, fantastical elements of the series.

Grounded as I am in history—my training was as a classicist—I didn’t start off envisioning my novels as a combination of history and fantasy. I thought I’d write historical mysteries, using this smart, puzzle-solving queen as my “sleuth.” It wasn’t until I became fully immersed, that I realized the Hittite predilection for psychologically fascinating magic was a vein of gold to mine deeply. I also began to find layers of international intrigue that raised the stakes for my characters and moved the plot of each book beyond the question of who killed whom. My historical fiction had taken “a quarter turn to the fantastical,” to borrow Guy Gavriel Kay’s term. It has been a dramatic journey. As you may notice from the cover of the latest book in the series, Of Kings and Griffins, I also adopted as characters the mythical griffins depicted in Hittite artwork and adorning the walls of ancient throne rooms—and griffins are even more fun than dragons! 

Of Kings and Griffins is book 3 in the Tesha series but is easily read as a standalone. The two earlier books in the series are Priestess of Ishana and Sorcery in Alpara.

For more about Judith Starkston, her newsletter, and the historical background of her novels go to her website.

Of Kings and Griffins by Judith Starkston ~~ A vicious king, vengeful griffins, and a scheming goddess. Can Tesha outmaneuver foes from these three different worlds?

For Tesha, priestess and queen, happiness is a world she can control, made up of her family and the fractious kingdom she and her husband rule within the Great King’s empire. But now the Great King is dead, and his untried son plots against them. Tesha fights back with forbidden sorcery and savvy. In yet another blow, the griffin king lures Daniti, Tesha’s magical blind sister, into a deadly crisis that Daniti alone can avert.

As danger ensnares everyone Tesha loves, her goddess offers a way out. But can Tesha trust this offer of divine assistance or is it a trap—one that would lead to an unstoppable bloodbath?

Escape into this award-winning epic fantasy series, inspired by the historical Hittite empire and its most extraordinary queen.

Many thanks, Judith! Best wishes for your latest novel. I’ve already put it on my TBR list!

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.