Title: The Lightning Horse
Author: N.L. Holmes
Genre: Historical Fiction / Coming of Age
The Lightning Horse centers Tiwatipara, a charioteer with a difficult past. Tiwatipara constructs and drives chariots for nobility. When his father and grandfather are in a freak chariot accident, ultimately killing his father, Tiwatipara swears that he failed in his chariot construction and blames himself for his father’s death.
Years after the accident, dynamics among the nobility are changing. The auguries say that “the gods are angered by a lame man serving the king.” Tensions rise among the royals, and allegiances shift as everyone attempts to prove they are not the “lame man.” No one is safe from King Hattushili’s power, or the plans those below him are scheming.
When Tiwatipara discovers that he isn’t responsible for the chariot breaking after all, he vows to find and punish whoever is responsible for his father’s death. The person who sabotaged the chariot is quite predictable, but it’s unclear whether this is done on purpose because, thankfully, it builds tension and suspense between Tiwatipara and the person.
The opening chapter is the perfect balance of emotional and exciting. One of the best parts of this first chapter is the descriptions of the majestic chariot horses as well as the special bond between the driver and their horses.
Despite the numerous times the chariots are used, the rest of the novel doesn’t have many scenes engaging with the horses. With so much tension and hostility that is built up in the novel, incorporating the horses more would have added an ethereal element to the narrative and broken up the tension a bit. In addition, more engagement with the horses would have brought the title’s meaning full-circle.
The novel is told through the third-person omniscient and is very character-driven. There is an abundance of dynamic, interesting characters. Having many characters to learn about helped with the world-building and made the mystery of the chariot’s saboteur more intense.
One of the novel’s stand-out qualities is how fleshed-out the antagonists are. Many of the chapters and sections are dedicated to the grimy, scheming, less likeable characters. These characters bring in the humor and scandal that will keep readers laughing and intrigued.
Because each chapter focuses on different people, it is a bit difficult to connect deeply with every character. With so many of the chapters/sections dominated by the antagonists, readers may wish they were hearing more from the more likeable characters, like Tiwatipara. Tiwatipara is the first character we are introduced to in the novel, and he is likely the character that readers will most easily connect and sympathize with.
The “Historical Notes” and “Glossary of Names and Terms” are the most valuable resources for readers. Because the story is based on historical figures, the “Historical Notes” section provides easy-to-understand clarification and background information. With so many characters, many of them with complex interconnected relationships, it can be difficult to keep up with and remember everyone’s role in the story and in the other characters’ lives, so the “Glossary of Names and Terms” is a useful reference section.
The Lightning Horse is an action-packed, exciting opener for the Empire at Twilight series. Holmes reimagines the historical figures and legacies from the Hittite Empire to create an adventurous novel that readers of all ages will enjoy. Rumors, scandals, and betrayals loom over the kingdom, and readers will be hooked from the first chapter to see who will be the last one standing.
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