House of Dreams was released as Lady of the Reeds in the US.
Inspired by the actual plot of a concubine in the harem of Ramses III to poison him, Pauline Gedge has created a most compelling and unforgettable female character – the restless, willful child of a village midwife and her soldier-farmer husband in the tiny hamlet of Aswat, on the edge of the desert far to the south of the royal capital.
Even before she has reached puberty Thu rejects the only future that appears to be possible for her – that of following in her mother’s footsteps as midwife and marrying a son of one of the local peasants. Still, in her fantasies of another kind of life, she would never have imagined herself as one of Pharaoh’s prized concubines. How this comes about and what happens after she falls out of favour is a rich and enthralling story.
Impeccable as always in her recreation of the Egypt of the time, whether the mud huts of Aswat; the household of Hui, master physician and Seer to Pharaoh; the splendours of the court; the intrigues of the harem and of those determined to wrest power from the priests of Amun, Pauline Gedge has once again given us a living, breathing, glorious Egypt of times past in a uniquely satisfying novel.
“…a beautifully detailed story of plot and counterplot, of manipulation and escape.” – The Mercury News
“Deft prose, charismatic characters and a vivid, wholly persuasive rendering of ancient days distinguish this multi-layered historical.” – Publishers Weekly
“A living Egypt, steeped in belief and work, fiery with the sun and cooled by the Nile, blessed and cursed by its gods, and thronging with men and women as immediate to me as my neighbours. What a triumph.” – Cecilia Holland
“Gedge’s novel is a multi-layered story of intrigue, Egyptian decline, and the personal choices that make up a destiny. The author’s vivid, seamless prose brings to life the teeming activity of the Nile, the merciless heat of the sun, the hothouse perfume of the gardens of the wealthy and the dust of impoverished villages. Gedge almost seems to have herself lived in that bygone world. This is… a novel that is powerfully atmospheric and unexpectedly poignant.” – Herald Sunday
Pauline’s notes on Dreams
History has left us the intriguing but frustrating account of a murder plot against the Pharaoh Ramses the Third hatched by one of his concubines in the harem. Apparently this woman had produced a royal son and had begged the King to marry her, thus making the boy a legitimate prince and herself a queen. Ramses, who had many concubines and a slew of male bastards, refused her request outright. Angry and ambitious, she hatched a plot to get rid of him.
By the time the plan was discovered it had become unwieldy. The concubine had drawn several other palace and harem officials into it, and its unmasking was inevitable. I call the account of the plot frustrating because it quite literally breaks off just before the woman is about to receive her punishment from the judges hearing the case. Under the ethics of Ma’at, the ancient balance of cosmic and earthly laws under which the Egyptians lived, every citizen was entitled to a trial and a fair hearing when necessary. I was intrigued by the woman herself. What were her roots? How had she persuaded others to join her in her nasty attempt at revenge, or perhaps others had seen in her an opportunity to play out their own dissatisfactions with Ramses? What had her punishment actually been?
House of Dreams became the story of Thu, a girl from a poor village in southern Egypt who was not content with her station in life and dreamed of something better. When a wealthy and influential seer came to visit the temple of Wepwawet, the local god, Thu took the opportunity he gave her to leave her village.
The debate as to whether or not Ramses was actually killed still occupies historians from time to time, mainly because an address to one of his sons was recorded after he would have been entombed. It was often the custom to compose admonitory instructions to heirs that ideally would have come from the mouths of the deceased during their last hours, even though everyone knew that they had already died. Ramses’ phrasing is decidedly ambiguous. I prefer to think that he survived Thu’s desperate desire to do away with him, and lived to condemn her. I wrote the novel in the first person from Thu’s exclusive point of view, something I had not done before, and I enjoyed setting down every word.
House of Dreams (Lady of the Reeds) has been translated into French, German, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Greek, Slovak, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Turkish and Russian.