House of Illusions by Pauline Gedge

(Cover picture courtesy of eBookXP.)

All Egyptian soldiers know that when they pass through the village of Aswat they must avoid the woman who tends the temple of Wepwawet.  She rushes at them, begging them to take a manuscript to Pharaoh.  She’s obviously crazy, accusing powerful men of nefarious deeds.  But one young soldier, Kamen, takes pity on the woman and reads the manuscript.  What he reads is so convincing that he believes a terrible injustice has been done.  Without telling the woman of Aswat, he takes the manuscript back to Pi-Ramses and shows it to his general, Paiis.  A chain of events was thus set in motion, a drama of revenge and punishment, miraculous disclosures and unexpected vindication.

In House of Dreams, the beautiful Thu was trained to be the perfect concubine to Pharaoh.  But unbeknownst to her, it was all part of a plot to give her the power and proximity to poison her lover.  Despite the involvement of many highly placed men and women, only Thu’s part of the conspiracy was uncovered.  Unable to sentence his beloved to death, Pharaoh exiled Thu to her home village, Aswat, where for seventeen years she has written down her story and dreamed of retribution.

Unexpectedly, through the actions of Kamen, Thu finds herself in the position to achieve her dream.  She watches as the schemers are brought to justice.  But what of the mastermind of the plot—Hui, the brilliant seer, her teacher and one-time lover?  Thoughts of Hui bring confusion, and as she sees the fulfillment of her dreams of revenge she begins to wonder if the deaths of these conspirators will bring the satisfaction she craves.

Call me cold-hearted, but I actually liked the tragic ending of House of Dreams.  It was realistic and stayed true to the less than happy tone of the novel.  But I guess Pauline Gedge just couldn’t let it end there and wrote House of Illusions to give Thu her revenge.

There is only one word to describe this sequel: cliché.  The plot is more like that of a Hollywood movie and Pauline Gedge had to do some serious fact-changing to write this novel.  After all, the real Thu and her grown son (he was not an infant at the time of the plot) were executed for their parts in the huge conspiracy to kill Ramses III.  Archaeologists speculate that the so-called “Screaming Mummy” (not for the weak of stomach!) was Ramses’ son, Pentawere and that he was executed by drinking poison, which accounts for the gruesome expression that gives this mummy his name.  The real Thu certainly didn’t get a happy ending and I don’t like how much the facts were changed to give her such an ending.

But if you like Hollywood-esque tales of retribution, you’ll love House of Illusions.  All of the people who manipulated Thu into poisoning Pharaoh are finally caught, tried and handed out their gruesome punishments.  Thu learns the fate of the infant son who was taken away from her when she was banished to Aswat and they both live happily ever after.

With a medium-paced plot and the promise of retribution, House of Illusions is a decent enough novel.  I guess that it’s just not for me.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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