Novel Review - I, The Sun, by Janet Morris
I, The Sun
by Janet Morris, 1983, 558pp
TLDR: 4 out of 5 for a solid piece of historical fiction
I, The Sun is a work of historical fiction that masquerades as the autobiography of the ancient Hittite king Suppiluliuma I. He's considered by some to be the greatest Hittite king as he took the dwindling kingdom and, through military might and savvy diplomacy, expanded it to its largest extent. He reigned c. 1344 BC for an unknown period of time. The events of his life were largely recorded by his son Mursilli, and this is the primary historical source. The Amarna Letters fill in some of the blanks.
Morris does a wonderful job bringing the period alive, and as someone who has read a fair amount of ancient history, this novel was quite convincing. She obviously have a good grasp of Hittite culture and history. She begins the story with Suppiluliuma still a young man, fighting for his father in various wars in Anatolia, defeating the Kaska tribes and others. He ends up taking the throne from his brother, then consolidates his hold on Anatolia before turning his attention south to the kingdom of the Mitanni and to ancient Syria, where the Egyptians and Amorites hold sway. Ultimately, circumstances bring him into conflict with Egypt after an Egyptian queen asks him for one of his sons in marriage. This incident is preserved in one of the most remarkable letters of the period. This ends in a series of tragedies which I'll leave you to discover on your own.
I, The Sun is nicely written and very character driven. It's an engaging story, well told. My only quibble, maybe more than a quibble, is that for the story of a king who made his name as a savvy reader of the political landscape, as a warrior, and as a builder, only the first of these is really covered in this book. Morris avoids the battles almost entirely, giving brief descriptions of the events, but none of the viscera. And she completely ignores the building aspect as well, to the point where you'll come away with very little in the way of appreciation for Hittite architecture and structures. Instead, the book is mainly concerned with Suppiliuma's social interactions with family, servants, wives, children, generals, petty kings, and great kings. So while it's a generally accurate historical account, it's an incomplete one.
That said, she does include many nice little historical details, and names many people of ancient tribes, including an Amorite, a Sutean (she places him as being from Libya, rather than the Syrian desert), Minoans (who she describes as a defunct people wandering the seas in their boats), Kaska, Kassites Babylonians, Assyrians, Luwians, Egyptians, and Habiru (whom she clearly equates with the Hebrews). She gets the placenames generally right (though strangely she uses modern names for Egyptian locales, such as Thebes (a Greek name) and Karnak (Arabic) rather than the ancient Egyptian names. This may be because the Hittite name for them is unknown, and so a conscious choice. In any case, there's a lot here for an ancient history fan to nod and smile at.
Don't be put off, though. if ancient history is not your bag. It's also a good story, and a well written one. Just check out the reviews on Good Reads and you'll see - it's not just for historians.
I listened to the audio book, read (rather languidly) by her husband, Christopher Crosby Morris. He and Janet are quite a pair, having formed a successful rock band in the 70's, written Thieve's World stories and Merovingian Nights stories, and consulted for the US Military. Check out their bios. 4 out of 5.