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on 11 February 2013
It was an enjoyable read. It provided a welcome respite from the business books I was reading. I recommend it you enjoy historicals with a twist, at the author's discretion.
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Returning home from a long and brutal campaign against the Armenians, the Hittite soldier Lukka finds the Hatti Empire in chaos. The capital city, Hattusa, is in flames. Lukka's family home is destroyed, his father mortally wounded and his wife and young sons have been taken by slave traders.

Lukka and his small band of soldiers track the slavers across Greece to war-torn Troy. Here, as Lukka tries to recover his wife and sons, he becomes a warrior of the Trojan War where he fights with the Greeks in their battle for the return of Helen.

The basic story outline is familiar to anyone who has read The Iliad. But there are some alternative history twists which will amuse some readers and may well annoy others. I have mixed feelings about the novel: I didn't care for the portrayal of some of the characters, especially Helen, yet I quite liked the hero Lukka.
An enjoyable escapist read - if you can tolerate some changes to the story of The Iliad.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 29 March 2011
Since my main interest in this book comes from an interest in history and especially the history of this period, I am splitting this review into two sections. The first section will deal with the story itself and the style, characters, etc. The second part is about the history and doesn't reflect my rating much either way, since most people who read this book will be looking for exactly what it is: An adventure novel set during the Trojan War. If you aren't interested in history then feel free to ignore the second part of this review.

This book is basically about the Trojan War. The main character, Lukka, is a soldier from the fallen Hittite Empire which lies far away from either side. He is on a quest to rescue his wife and sons from slavers, and these slavers have rather unlikely traveled all the way to Troy (A month-long journey) where you'd think there would be enough slaves already. Aside from the somewhat forced nature of his quest the first part of the book is the most successful. It feels like an adventure. A group of men on a quest to rescue their leader's wife. Unfortunately things reach something of a standstill once they reach Troy. Once there Lukka immediately joins the Greeks since his wife is now a slave to Agamemnon. From then on Lukka is predominantly a bystander to the Trojan War. There are a number of plot points that, perhaps because they are so well known, the author simply has other characters describe to Lukka, sometimes only moments after they have happened, instead of having him witness them himself. This kills any momentum that the book has. This story is essentially The Iliad retold with a new character. There is very little else added. It seems as if the book is on autopilot for as long as the war goes on (Which is the rest of the book basically). I think that I would actually have preferred it if they changed everything around and gave a different take on the material. It can't seem to decide whether to be realistic or fantastical and it sort of settles for being dull. As it is, you're better off reading the book that this is based on instead. If the Iliad is too hard for you there are dozens of abridgments out there. Get one of them instead.

The characters are not particularly complex and have rather a tendency to be defined by a single character trait. The Greeks are seen rather differently than Homer portrays them: Agamemnon is a whiner; Menelaus is a cruel husband; Achilles is an ugly, violent dwarf; and Nestor is a senile old man who keeps recounting boring stories. Odysseus comes off fairly well, being a cunning but professional soldier. Hector comes off well also, as he tends to do in modern takes on Troy. The biggest change of all is Helen. This book has a strong feminist angle which I personally find to be rather forced. Helen is a clever woman who wants to escape from the Greeks because they do not give her as much freedom and power as the Trojans. I don't want to say more since that would give the ending away, but her story is the only one that goes rather different from the legend. Since the Greeks are utterly unsympathetic this removes any concern that the reader might have for their story.

Perhaps the Adventure novel just isn't my genre, but I feel this book to be disappointingly average. There is nothing wrong with the book per say, it simply doesn't meet expectations. That isn't to say that this book is without potential. The ending is left wide open and it sounds like the author intends to continue the story. Since by far the most interesting parts of the book were those that did not deal with Troy the potential of quality sequels is decent. They are not likely to be deep or engrossing, but they might be entertaining and that is all that this book tried to be.

This section deals with the actual history portrayed in the book and isn't meant to affect the entertainment value of the writing. There have been some spectacularly inaccurate books out there that nevertheless manage to be fun. Still, for those who are interested here are my comments on the history portrayed in the book.

I have to say that the research here seems kind of sloppy. Perhaps I'm simply spoiled by reading Bernard Cornwell and the like, but I usually expect more work put into this kind of book. Certainly there was some research done since the names of the gods and the uses of chariots and siege weapons are more or less as they should be, but those feel like they have been just copied off of a list. The character names are taken from random places or made up. Lukka for example, is the name of one of the kingdoms bordering the Hittites. A positive point is that the Hittites refer to themselves as people of Hatti, as indeed they would have done, even if everyone else does anachronistically refer to them as Hittites. Iron was not the standard equipment of Hittite soldiers. That is a theory that was disproven half a century ago. Leaving aside the question of whether there was a Trojan War or not (That is one of the advantages of writing fiction) the way that it was portrayed takes everything from the Iliad and merely adds touches here and there so that it seems more realistic. The political situation as portrayed is not right. The timing is off for the whole thing. Bova's grasp on dates seems rather shaky. He has people witness the sack of Babylon, the battle of Kadesh, the fall of Hattusas, and the fall of Troy all in a single lifetime. Some of these events were close in time, but others are up to 200 years apart. The Greek Cities fell before the Hittite Empire did, which means that the main character should never have been in the situation he was in. It certainly stretches credulity that the Trojans would have no idea after ten years of fighting that the Hittites had fallen and were not coming to their aid. In terms of sources used, apart from the names of the gods I don't see any information in this book that couldn't have come from the BBC series "Lost Cities of the Ancient World." The slant on the fall of the Hittite Empire is exactly the same with the Hittites falling solely due to civil war. Neither this book nor that show mentioned the myriad of raiders sweeping through the Near Eastern world at this point, destroying every country but Egypt. In fact, the show actually stated flat out that there were no external enemies facing the Hittites. This book seems to agree with that assessment. Of course, if this book becomes a series it will have a chance to correct that. Here's hoping.

The Greeks come off as arrogant, disorganized barbarians while the Trojans are rich and civilized merchants. Both are of course exaggerations but understandable ones. The Hittites, disappointingly, come across as rather bland and generic. They seem merely to be a powerful Imperial power. Nothing else is really shown. The Hittites are intentionally without culture and customs so that they can serve as modern eyes observing the Greek and Trojan ways. I feel that there was a missed opportunity there, since the Hittite world is never really shown. The situation in the Empire is left rather vague. You hear that the kingdom has fallen to a civil war, but you never hear more than that. Not even the name of the last king. Or any king for that matter. Perhaps he thinks that real Hittite names are too hard to pronounce (Try saying Suppiluliumas!). The capital city of Hattusas is sacked by the Hittite factions in the beginning of the book for reasons that are unclear. Just from a storytelling perspective it would have been nice to have given the main character a home to flee from. Starting in the middle of things seems like a good idea, but I think that the book would have been better served to have either told the story of the fall in flashback or start it earlier so that you could feel for what Lukka lost. Amusingly enough, he already has a flashback to the fall of Hattusas about 20 pages in, even though we have already seen it. For a novel entitled "The Hittite" you'd think that there would be more about them. Instead we merely get another retelling of the Trojan War.
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on 3 June 2012
I know Ben Bova best as a science fiction author and was intrigued when I discovered that Bova would be releasing an historical fiction novel. I noticed instantly from the get-go the difference in writing style and the fact that The Hittite is much shorter than Bova's sci-fi novels. Bova's sci-fi novels are lengthy affairs, yet punchy in their delivery, packed chock full to the brim of action, plot, and character insight, all rolled into one big rollercoaster of a sci-fi thriller. They're full of technical and scientific details, and you really feel it, yet the mystery elements in the story ensure that they are deeply engrossing.

The Hittite is different. In stark contrast, the writing style here is sparse, the book is short, the chapters only a few pages each. That's not a complaint as such - just an observation - but it's certainly surprising given Bova's usual style. In a way there is a slight feeling of disappointment, because I expected an historical fiction epic just as packed and action-filled as Bova's sci-fi novels. This new style has both advantages and shortcomings. On one hand, the sparse style is judicious, offering us carefully considered snippets of information without becoming meandering or overwhelming. However, on the other hand, I almost felt like I didn't get to know the characters that well, beyond an intriguing but frustratingly elusive rough sketch of some interesting personalities. In regards to pacing, this style of writing quality at once made the story feel like it fairly clipped along and that a lot happened despite the sparseness of the writing. Yet strangely at the very same time I also got the strange sense that events were progressing so quickly that not enough time was spent into really going into each one in more depth. As a result I both liked and found problems with this different style that Bova utilises in The Hittite.

In terms of plot, it wasn't what I expected. I scrupulously avoided any hint of spoilers ahead of time, so I cracked open the book expecting a novel set in the Hittite empire and found instead a new retelling of The Iliad. I love the story of The Iliad, it's a timeless tale, but the problem with historical fiction set in the Trojan War is that it's one of these that has absolutely been done to death. It can be very difficult to get a new angle on it and make it fresh and exciting, something that people want to read. Even for a Trojan War lover, how many times do I really want to read the same story? Bova's angle is to tell the story from the perspective of Lukka, an outsider from the Hittite empire, who gets involved with both Trojans and Mycenaeans. Okay, that's a different premise. And Bova does change events up a little. But it's not enough. If an author's going to do the Trojan War, by this stage I think they have to put a whole new angle on it or stay faithful and write it really well. Bova's angle isn't different enough - too much is still predictable, despite the scattering of new material he throws in, and the sparse writing style can't make up for it by at least creating a richly absorbing retelling. This was frustrating as I'm familiar with Bova's usual packed-to-the-brim writing style, which is quite the engrossing read, and we just don't get it here.

Which brings me to Lukka. Like I said, interesting premise to bring the Hittites in on the Trojan War. But I had issues with Lukka. Not glaring issues that ruined my enjoyment of the book, but just the kind of slightly irritating peripheral issues that mean you didn't quite enjoy it as much as you might have. As Lukka tells us this tale, and we as readers see events through his eyes, it'd be pretty boring if he just sat by the sidelines the entire time and didn't play an important role. However, I felt that Lukka veered just a little too much towards "Mary Sue" territory. I'm sure that Bova didn't intend to write it that way, but when an original character is brought into established canon - especially canon as established as Homer's Iliad - and is presented as an important contributor and gets mixed up in all the key events... it reminded me of fan fiction Mary Sue characters who get just that sort of treatment - waltz on in to established canon of a book series and are miraculously involved in every important event and become themselves a crucial character - when in the original canon they didn't exist and weren't needed at all for events to play out.

Bova is a good writer, and I had hopes for this book, but it just doesn't hit the mark. It's a bit dull and predictable and the writing style is so different from his usual signature style. It's a reasonably enjoyable read but that's it, there's nothing more to really engage or excite. It's just "okay". Mildly enjoyable, but just too mediocre. Not fresh or in depth enough, and the main character whilst likable is unmemorable.
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on 22 October 2012
I find it difficult to write a review for this book as I had read most of it before in Ben Bova's earlier novel The Vengeance Of Orion. That was science fiction with a warrior from the future appearing at Troy and recruiting a Hittite named Lukka to storm the walls of Troy with a siege engine (the Wooden Horse). This version has Lukka take on the role of Orion in a virtual repeat of his adventures, so don't buy it if you have the other.
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