Book Review – The Hittite by Ben Bova
“War stories grow larger with each telling, and this one was already becoming overblown, scarcely an hour after it happened.”
The Hittite opens on a soldier of the Hittite (Hatti) Empire, Lukka, returning home from a campaign in Armenia, only to find the once-mighty empire in disarray and his family kidnapped by slavers. Along with a few soldiers who have nowhere left to call home, Lukka treks westward, his sights set on the city of Troy, where he learns his wife and two sons have been taken.
So begins Lukka’s adventures involving the legendary Greek siege of Troy, encounters with the beautiful Helen, and even a friendship developed with a blind storyteller (sound familiar?).
After reading some reviews, many “traditionalists” take the author to task for his interpretation of the classic stories. To me, it seems a little pedantic to pick on Bova for giving his own take on a story that has likely changed in detail over centuries and multiple translations (see my quote above).
He turns some of the extraordinary events into just plain ordinary. He shows little love for the Greeks, portraying them as dirty, plunder-seeking barbarians (one could argue Homer was slyly saying the same in the accepted canon). In Bova’s vision, Agamemnon is a power-hungry king using the “kidnapping” of his brother’s wife as cover to weaken Troy and gain access to the grain-rich shores of the Black Sea. He also views the Hittites as a more enlightened culture, something likely exaggerated, but I can’t truly debate due to my lack of Hittite scholarship.
Still, it’s obvious that Bova knows his Greco-Roman classics. While Homer’s tale makes up the bulk of The Hittite, the reader will also notice strands of Aeschylus, Virgil, and Statius throughout. Despite this, what I really love about The Hittite is that it can satisfy on two levels: As a standalone story, the writing is fluid and full of action, but for those familiar with the original works, there are plenty of cheeky references and easter eggs.
The ending was a little opaque, probably leaving room for a sequel, though I haven’t been able to find any solid information on that.
If you’re looking for a brisk read and are familiar with the legends of the Trojan War (or better yet, want a fun way to get familiar), I highly recommend picking up The Hittite.
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