House of Illusions vindicates our much-maligned heroine, Thu. In her sequel to House of Dreams, Pauline Gedge shows us why she’s regarded as a superlative storyteller. Thu is exiled to Aswat, and is living out her life as a temple crone, slowly choking on the bitter seeds of hate and betrayal sown in her life almost two decades ago. She’s acquired a reputation for insanity, by virtue of haranguing all and sundry who stop by, beseeching them to take her manuscript to the Pharaoh. She still nurses a faint glimmer of hope that those who betrayed her will be brought to justice, including her mentor and primary abuser, Hui.
A passing soldier takes mercy on her and accepts the package out of misplaced compassion and a youthful ardour for righteousness, momentarily believing her story. Of course, he turns out to be her son, who was forcibly separated from her sixteen years ago by the Pharoah himself. Once this predictable arc is gotten over with, the story picks up and things start happening all over the place. The Hawk-in-the-Nest, prince Ramses believes Thu and spares her life, imprisoning the conspirators, who are then sentenced to death or mutilation (rhinectomies and ectotectomies abound).
But Thu’s desire for revenge is not slaked, since Hui has escaped the clutches of Ma’at. Before the Pharaoh ascends to the great Judgement Hall, he gives her back her title and her lands, and she is Lady Thu of the Fayum again. She journeys to her new home, only to find Hui as her steward. The Pharaoh in all his wisdom spared Hui’s life, but demoted him to the serving class and condemned him to obey Thu for the rest of his life. We leave the two main characters at the end, staring out over the Nile. Hui is clever and is counting on her old feelings for him to spare his life yet again, while Thu is aware of this, and moodily gazes out, wondering what the future has in store for them. The ending might be Sopranos-like, with not a whole lot happening at the precise moment of climax, but enough happens throughout the two tales to keep you, the reader, on a rollercoaster of empathic emotions.
Gedge does not disappoint and this is another worthy addition to your bibliotheque.