REVIEW of Sorcery in Alpara (Tesha #2) by Judith Starkston

sorcery in alparaTesha, priestess of the goddess Ishana, is traveling with her new husband Hattu to his Hitolian mountain fortress in the north. When Paskan raiders kidnap her sister and an evil curse consumes her husband, Tesha must rise to the occasion, using her own powers to lead the army, save the people, and win back her husband’s trust. Inspired by the relationship between a real-life Hittite king and queen, this story blends fantasy with historical elements to make a wild ride through the ancient world replete with magical incantations, poisonous centipedes, and flying griffins.

Tesha continues in her role as a strong and resourceful woman, both in diplomacy with humans and dominion in the spirit realm. Initially unaware that her new husband comes saddled with several concubines, she finds herself the target of jealousy and intrigue once she reaches his court at Alpara. A stepson the same age as her does little to help the situation, especially with the crown-envy that consumes him.

Tesha’s blind sister Daniti figures prominently in this story, using her own heightened hearing senses and ability to communicate with creatures. Hattu’s general, Marak, is another important character (and possibly my favorite). The chemistry between Marak and Daniti develops as they work together to elude their Paskan captors, and I’m curious to see what happens between them in the third book of the series. Hattu’s own fears from his previous incarceration pervade the story, creating an inexorable chain of events that must lead to the facing of those fears. The terrifying journey he makes underground reminds one of the pivotal descent to the underworld that appears in nearly all the ancient epics.

Instead of being a “romance” with equal sympathy given to both the hero and the heroine, Tesha stands out as the protagonist of the novel. Hattu, transformed by the lingering sorcery that has invaded his being, is her chief antagonist. All the accusations leveled against Hattu in the first book are now leveled against Tesha, and by one who ought to hold her near and dear. I was starting to get a little annoyed at “passive” Hattu at the end of Priestess of Ishana, but I must say that “cursed” Hattu in this book made me even more exasperated with him. Fate is not kind to Tesha in this book, but with the help of the goddess, she will overcome.

The first book in this series had a little bit of a YA vibe to it with the way that the text flowed and the age of the main character. This second book still has a fifteen-year-old heroine, but prospective readers should note that there were also some fairly explicit sex scenes in it, including one attempted rape.

The originality of this storyline and the blend of mythic and historical elements continue to fascinate me. Where will our Hitolian queen go from here?

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