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The Valley Iris

The Valley Iris

A forbidden love within a sacred village haunts her mind and troubles her future.

The Valley Iris was the finalist in the 2021 Young Adult-Coming of Age Readers' Favorite Awards.
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Main Tropes and Themes

  • Coming of Age
  • Scars
  • Tragic Rose
  • Secret Baby
  • Brand New World
  • Found Family

What is this story about?

A forbidden love within a sacred village haunts her mind and troubles her future.

Even the vision granted to her by the goddess Hathor keeps Tey from the man she loves. Tey does not understand why her mother will not fight for her. She cannot see why his family does not accept her until it is too late.

Is Tey doomed to live a life with someone else or with no one at all? Can she pick herself up in the darkness of the starlit night and seek her own happiness?​

Find out in this coming-of-age drama set in the New Kingdom of Egypt.

Who is this story for?

Perfect for fans of Michelle Moran, Amy Tan, and Stephanie Dray.

Anyone who loves inspirational stories and Ancient Egyptian historical retellings, this Lost Pharaoh Chronicles prequel offers a compelling and imaginative take on the life of a young girl who lives in Set Ma'at, the forbidden city dedicated to Pharaoh's tomb workers.

With its richly detailed world-building and complex characters, The Valley Iris is a must-read for anyone who loves tales of love, loss, and endurance.

Grab this gripping historical drama today.

Content Disclaimers

Author Rating:

The author rated this book for ages 14+ for violence, underage drinking (time period appropriate), and adult themes. 

Chapter 1 Preview

The Place of Truth

Set Maat, 1368 BC

The scorching heat fell upon Tey as she stepped outside her family’s home onto the single long street of her village, Set Maat. Shading her eyes with her hand, she first thanked the gods she was now a woman and old enough to wear a wig to protect her head from the sun. She peered toward the north end of the street. A wide smile formed on her lips at the sight of the gangs coming home from their long eight days of working on the tomb for Pharaoh Amenhotep III.

Tey screamed toward her house, “Father is coming home!” 

Her two sisters, Mutemnub and Menwi, and two brothers, Mehy and Men, came running out of the door, kicking up the dusty sand as they slid out into the street. The right gang and the left gang, two lines of men, filed into the village, each man entering into their homes, on the right and on the left, as they came to them. Tey wanted to see her father, but there was someone else she had longed to see for a while now: the Foreman of the Right Gang’s fifteen-year-old son, Woser.

The Foreman, a tall, lean figure, walked up to Tey and her younger siblings and knelt down, wrapping the four younger ones in his arms.

“In peace, children.” He pulled away, still kneeling on one knee. “Are you excited for the festival tonight?” 

“Yes, Foreman Theshen,” the children replied. The Foreman of the Left Gang, Khamet, passed by and they all nodded their heads in respect to him as the other village leader.

“Good.” Theshen rubbed Menwi’s bald head and flicked her sidelock, causing Menwi to laugh. A warm smile graced his face as he looked up at Tey and cupped her cheek. “Are you helping your mother take care of your brothers and sisters?” 

“Yes, Foreman Theshen,” Tey nodded. She smiled at him, hoping he would be her father-in-law soon. She peered around Theshen, looking for Woser, but he was nowhere in sight. He had not been there for the last three decans, which was odd. Maybe he had been sick and not able to go to the worksite with his father. This past month, Woser had told her he would speak to his parents about marriage now that they were both of the age to marry, but she had not seen him, nor Theshen’s family for that matter, since then. This was also odd, since Theshen and her family were close and communed with each other often. The silence between their families had nagged at her the past three decans as she wondered about the outcome of Woser’s talk with them. 

“Good,” Theshen whispered and smiled with his eyes, drawing her gaze back to him. 

Tey’s heart lit. Perhaps this is a good sign. I cannot wait to marry my best friend. She had been a child until recently and never kissed Woser, only holding his hand, but now, as a woman with a woman’s wig, she wanted to experience that kiss more than ever. 

Theshen pulled his hand back from Tey’s cheek as Tey’s mother stepped up from the home’s lowered floor and into the doorway facing the street. 

He stood and locked eyes with Tey’s mother. “Mistress of the House.” He gave a slow nod of his head. “Rai.”

A sparkle appeared in her mother’s eye just as her father came to stand next to Theshen, patting his shoulder. 

Her father scooped up Rai in his arms. “I have missed you so much, my love.” He gave her a quick kiss and then turned to Theshen. “I am sorry, Foreman, for my rudeness. I got carried away when I saw my beautiful wife.”

“Don’t consider it, Citizen Merenre.” Theshen smiled. He looked at Tey, but addressed the children. “You take care and get off the street. These men might run right over you to get to their homes.” 

“Yes, Foreman Theshen,” Tey said along with her siblings, and then, trying to show Theshen her ability as a future mother, she ushered her siblings inside with ease. She looked back to smile, but he was gone.

“Ah, I see you have traded some more of your fine dresses and belts, my love!” Merenre said as he looked around the outer hall of their home examining the lack of inventory.

“A few,” Rai nodded with a beam on her face. “Tey does an excellent job sewing belts and dresses.” Rai gave a head nod toward her daughter. 

“I am sure she does,” Merenre pulled Rai close. He kissed her again. “I have missed you as I always do every single decan I am away at the worksite.”

She smiled. “Then we shall enjoy these two days together as we always have.” She led him into the inner hall where their personal gods sat in niches in the walls: Bastet in one niche, and Horus in the other. A single column sat in the middle of the room to support their roof terrace. Their children followed them in, and they said their daily prayer together as a family. 

“Tey, will you take Mutemnub and Menwi and bring the food we have prepared to the outer hall? The festival will begin soon.” Rai sat back on her heels as her head stayed bowed to Bastet. 

“Yes, Mother.” Tey went with her sisters through the workroom past their state-supplied servant, Khuit, who sat folding the laundry, and into the outdoor kitchen. Tey looked up to the massive wall that lined the backs of all the homes in Set Maat. It seemed to her that, even though she had been outside the wall with her mother to the riverside market, the Medjay officers were everywhere. No one was allowed to leave and no one was allowed to enter unless they had official business to conduct in Set Maat. Tey and her mother were stopped by a Medjay each time they left the vicinity of the village and each time they entered.

As Tey reflected on the sacredness of this village, she accidentally knocked over the clay jar of ground grain. 

“You child!” Khuit called from the workroom as she glowered at Tey. “I spent all day grinding—”

“Silence, Khuit!” Tey gritted her teeth as her cheeks flushed red at Khuit’s insult. She smoothed her wig as she calmed herself. 

I am not a child, and, besides, Khuit should have put that jar into the cellar. 

She shoved the spilt grain out of their way with her foot as she peered to the small cellar door on the back kitchen wall. 

Her sisters grabbed the plates of bread and fish while Tey grabbed the amphoras of beer and wine. Khuit’s eyes followed them as they walked through the workroom back into the inner hall.

Tey found her mother still praying and her father lingering in the doorway to their bedchamber. He smiled at his daughters and whispered, “Your mother is telling Bastet her secrets.” 

Rai bowed low before Bastet and then rose, saying with a soft voice, “Please, daughters, watch your brothers in the outer hall, and, Tey, if we have any traders come, make sure to make good trades.” She stood up and looked at Tey. “Your father will need to bathe, and then we will be out to go to the festival. Do not eat of the food until then, and especially of the drink.”

“Yes, Mother,” Tey said, and her sisters nodded. 

They waited for their parents in the outer hall. No traders came. Men let out a heavy sigh and went to touch the amphora of beer.

“Men!” Tey slapped his hand. “No, this is for the festival.”

“I was just going to touch it,” he whined, rubbing the back of his hand. 

Singing began to fill the street, and Men and Mehy ran to the home’s entrance to see up into the street. They turned around, eyes wide, and whispered with the same excitement in their faces, “It’s starting!” 

The people lined the streets as they headed out of the walled village to the nearby temple of Hathor, where the Tekh Festival would take place. The smell of beer and wine filled the street as the songs lifted into the sky. 

Theshen, his wife, Senisonbe, and their children stopped by Tey’s home. The gold in Theshen’s belt and in Senisonbe’s wig glittered in the sun before they stepped into the outer hall. 

Menwi asked, “Would you like to trade for something, Foreman Theshen?”

He smiled and shook his head. “No, we’ve come to go with your family to the temple.”

Woser, Theshen’s eldest son, held a frown on his face as he looked at Tey. 

Why isn’t he happy? Tey smiled at him. 

He only shook his head and averted his eyes as Tey’s smile faded. 

Did I do something wrong? She took a step toward him, but Theshen stepped in front of Woser and addressed Tey. 

“Did you make all of this wonderful food?” Theshen gestured toward the plates of bread and fish.

“I helped my mother,” Tey said as she tried to steal a glance from Woser, who ultimately ignored her. Her gaze returned to Theshen. 

Did Woser tell his parents of his plans to marry me? Does Foreman Theshen not think me good enough for his son? She took a small shuffle backward, dropping her chin. He has always been nice to me, to our family, but we are still beneath him, I suppose. 

“Well, you did a great job, Tey. Your mother and father should be very proud.” Theshen blocked her sight of Woser. He lifted her chin with his hand. “Always be proud of yourself and what you accomplish.”

“Yes, Foreman Theshen,” she said with a smile that did not reach her eyes. 

Be proud, but not so proud to think your son could marry the likes of me.

Tey’s parents stepped from the inner hall; both were freshly bathed and wore their festival clothes. Merenre wore his beaded shendyt and leather sandals, whereas Rai wore her beaded dress and faience-and-jeweled collar. 

She rivals the status of Mistress of the House Senisonbe, Tey thought, as she compared Rai’s collar and jewels to those of Theshen’s wife. Gold was the only differentiating factor in their attire. Tey smiled, remembering helping her mother to make that dress she was wearing. She was now almost as good as her mother in her trade skills. Along with her woman’s wig, her mother had gifted her a ceramic needle case pendant that held her very own pair of copper needles. At least I can be proud of that. Her hand clutched the small pendant fastened about her neck.

“Thank you, Theshen, for stopping by for us.” Merenre grabbed Rai’s hand. 

Theshen then grabbed Senisonbe’s hand. “Of course, Merenre. Haven’t we always?”

“Well, we are on the way from your house to the temple,” Rai joked with a soft smile, referring to Theshen’s home located on the southern end of the street.

Theshen smiled at Rai and then at Merenre. 

Senisonbe turned her head to Theshen. “We will be late.” Then, with a small and polite smile, she eyed Rai’s dress and pulled Theshen’s hand toward the door.

Tey felt the newfound coolness in the air between Senisonbe and her mother. She piped up. “Mistress of the House Senisonbe, you look beautiful.”

A warm smile that usually graced her whole face came over her lips, but, this time, her eyes held an unfamiliar detachment in them. “As do you, Tey.” 

Tey lowered her chin in gratitude but slightly wished Senisonbe had used her title: Citizeness. She was a woman now, so perhaps she did not need to use Senisonbe’s title when addressing her, but the look in Senisonbe’s eyes told her to try such an omission on a different day.

Senisonbe threw her glance toward Rai once again and then to Merenre. “We will be late. We need to leave.”

“Of course, Senisonbe,” Merenre joked and stepped toward the door, following out Theshen’s family. “Is someone anxious to get to the wine?”

Senisonbe let out an annoyed but playful huff and gave a soft shake of her head. “I am anxious for my epiphany from Hathor, if she decides to grant one.” She peered over her shoulder to Rai. “Thank you, Rai, for your sacrifice of forgoing the festival this year and taking care of the children instead.” She glanced to Theshen, who patted her shoulder and ran his hand down her arm.

“It is an honor.” Rai squeezed Merenre’s hand. 

Tey walked behind her parents and admired a shared glance between her mother and father. I hope one day that can be Woser and me . . . if Theshen and Senisonbe will accept me.

The two families joined the crowds and began singing along with the rest of the families as they made their way to the Temple of Hathor, dancing as they went. Woser stayed away from Tey near the front of their party, and it seemed her mother and Woser’s parents kept her from dancing her way up to where he was.

The Medjay stood watch as they lined the valley path toward the Nile.

“Mother,” Tey asked, “every festival we have is here, so why is it that the people of the town across the Nile never join us?” She pointed to the usually quiet town once they could see it in the distance.

“Set Maat is special. Those people go elsewhere for the festivals, especially this festival. I do not know where they go, but they go there.” Rai smiled. “We only celebrate with the people of Set Maat. All of our festivals take place here. No one else is allowed to come.”

“Because we are divinely appointed by Pharaoh to do Pharaoh’s work?” Tey asked for confirmation.

“Yes. Your father’s great-grandfather was a master stonecutter, and he was chosen by Pharaoh Amenhotep I to build his tomb. Ever since, Set Maat has been the sacred place for us. No one else has these privileges, these rights afforded to us.”

Tey nodded as her mother recounted the same explanation she had received in previous years. She looked across the way to the town and realized she did not even know the name of it. 

They made it to the festival plain, where everyone sat down to eat and drink until the adults became drunk and fell asleep. Tey looked off hazily at the children lining up to go back to the town while the adults lay in the plains. Her mother laid her head gently back. “Why are you not sleeping?” Tey slurred. 

“Someone must take care of the children and organize the drummers in the morning for the end of the festival.” Rai kissed Tey’s forehead. “This is your first Tekh Festival as an adult, and I hope Hathor grants you an epiphany in the morning.”

Tey’s eyelids drooped, and she muttered, “I think she already did.” Tey’s brow knitted at the thought of Woser’s frown.

“Oh?” Rai folded Tey’s hands on her belly. “I have never heard of that happening, not before the new morning of the festival.”

“I do not think Theshen likes me,” Tey murmured, languidly watching the stars twinkle against the darkened sky.

“Theshen adores you,” Rai said and patted her cheek. “Trust me.”

Tey’s tongue felt thick in her mouth and her eyes felt too heavy to keep open, so she had no choice but to accept her mother’s response and fall asleep.

Product Information

eBook File Size: 1.2 MB

Paperback Size: 5" x 8"

216 pages

Includes: Exclusive Cover and Interior Formatting

Printed on-demand by Lulu Direct

Book Information

Publisher: LLMBooks Publishing
Published: October 2020
ISBN-13: 979-8643839569
ASIN: B0887X4JW2
Genre: Historical Fiction

Audiobook Information

Narrated by: Josselyn Cambridge
Series: The Lost Pharaoh Chronicles Prequel, Book 1
Length: 5 hrs and 16 mins
Release date: 01-13-23
Language: English

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  • (★★★★★)

    "The Valley Iris relentlessly pulled me through its pages...truly riveting and mesmerizing...a spectacular and noteworthy historical novel!” - Jessica Barbosa for Readers’ Favorite 

  • (★★★★★)

    “...a heartwarming tale of struggle, love, deception, and resurrection. The Valley Iris is a wonderfully written story, filled with details of life set in ancient Egypt.” - Teresa Syms for Readers’ Favorite

  • (★★★★★)

    "Author Lauren Lee Merewether really captivates audiences in this unique story about coming of age, and what it would mean to do so during this fascinating ancient historical period...highly recommend The Valley Iris for any reader looking to get into this historical fiction period and those who already adore it." - K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite

  • The Valley Iris was the finalist in the 2021 Young Adult-Coming of Age Readers' Favorite Awards.

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