She (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]


My empire is of the imagination, proclaims white queen Ayesha, She-who-must-be-obeyed. She is a spiritual romance in which Haggard explores not only the imagined city of Kôr, last remnant of an ancient, collapsed civilization, but his own concerns about science, society, and empire. To the twenty-first-century reader, She offers more than an entertaining tale of adventure, though it is that; it offers an exploration of the nineteenth-century imperial imagination.
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She (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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My empire is of the imagination, proclaims white queen Ayesha, She-who-must-be-obeyed. She is a spiritual romance in which Haggard explores not only the imagined city of Kôr, last remnant of an ancient, collapsed civilization, but his own concerns about science, society, and empire. To the twenty-first-century reader, She offers more than an entertaining tale of adventure, though it is that; it offers an exploration of the nineteenth-century imperial imagination.
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Editorial Reviews

Gale Research
Where pulp exotica tends to offer images of buried treasure found or ancient powers restored, generic resolutions for artificial problems, She raises real dilemmas and leaves them gapingly unresolved, on a note of unattainable desire and irretrievable loss," observed Geoffrey O'Brien in the Voice Literary Supplement.
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Meet the Author

Henry Rider Haggard, born in 1856 and raised in West Norfolk, moved to South Africa in 1875, where he became a private secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of Natal and later an ostrich farmer. He enjoyed the independence and adventure colonial service offered a young man and wrote frequent articles describing Africa for a variety of magazines. After the rebellion of the Dutch Boers against British rule in Transvaal, Haggard moved back to London, where he began writing about South Africa and lost civilizations.
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"My empire is of the imagination," proclaims Ayesha. She is speaking of her rule over the lost city of Kôr, last remnant of an ancient, collapsed civilization. But it may as well be H. Rider Haggard himself who speaks these words, for although he did not invent the lost civilization, as Brian Aldiss has noted, today it bears his patent. In novels such as King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quartermain , and She , Haggard presented the quest into the unknown world and the discovery of long collapsed, long forgotten civilizations, empires that existed only in his imagination. Great tales of adventure, Haggard's stories are also a product of his era. Haggard wrote during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, at the height of the British Empire and at a time of vast social change, and his greatest novel, She , reflects this turbulent time. She is a spiritual romance in which Haggard explored not only the lost empires of his imagination but his own concerns about science, society, and empire. To the twenty-first-century reader, She offers more than an entertaining tale of adventure, though it is that; it offers an exploration of the nineteenth-century imperial imagination.

Henry Rider Haggard was born in 1856. His father, William Haggard, owned an estate in West Norfolk, and the sizable Haggard family - Henry was the eighth child of ten and the sixth son - lived in relative prosperity for some time. Although his father could be an overbearing country squire, his mother loved her children and encouraged their intellectual interests. Although Henry later recalled is youth with fondness, he was, by his own admission, rather sickly as a child and a slow learner. Although his older brothers were able to attend Cambridge, Henry received only a basic education at the Queen Elizabeth School in Ipswich, his family lacking the money to send him to a university, and as his family's fortunes declined with the depression of the 1870s, Henry was forced to move from his family's estate in the country to London in search of a career in public service, but, he failed to pass the examinations. In 1875, his father used his connections to arrange an assignment for Henry as private secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, the Lieutenant Governor of Natal in South Africa. Haggard prospered in South Africa; he enjoyed the independence and adventure colonial service offered a young man and wrote frequent articles describing Africa for a variety of magazines. For some time, he determined to follow the career of a colonial administrator, eventually hoping to rise to the office of colonial governor. Haggard only served in South Africa until 1879, however. Rising tensions between British colonists, Dutch Boers in the recently annexed Transvaal, and native Zulus intensified in the four years Henry served in South Africa and led Henry to return to England.

Africa remained in Haggard's heart, however. In 1880, after a brief courtship, Haggard married Louisa Margitson and made an attempt to return to South Africa as a colonial administrator. Haggard, however, abandoned his official ambitions over the British government's handling of the colony, and instead, still intending to stay in South Africa, took up ostrich farming. The rebellion of the Dutch Boers against British rule in Transvaal, however, forced Haggard and his family to move back to London the following year. In London, Haggard took up the study of law, but in 1882, Haggard published his first book, Cetywayo and His White Neighbors , his assessment of the situation in South Africa, which was respectfully received. In 1884, perhaps encouraged by the success of Cetywayo , Haggard tried his hand at fiction and published Dawn , a novel of country life, romance, and moral dilemmas. The Witch's Head , a second novel that explored similar concerns and was published the same year, was set in South Africa during the Zulu war. Neither novel did well. The following year Haggard passed the Bar and considered pursuing a career in public office, but 1885 would prove to be a turning point in his literary career. Having heard of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island , Haggard decided to attempt a boy's adventure novel of his own. The result was King Solomon's Mines , which received an overwhelmingly positive reception, and later that year he wrote a sequel, Allan Quartermain , that would be published in 1887. For the rest of his life, Haggard would continue to be involved in politics and serve in public office, but it is his writing for which he is remembered.

She was Haggard's fifth novel. Written in only six weeks at the beginning of 1886, Haggard presented it to his publisher with the comment, "There is what I shall be remembered by." Many reviewers, however, criticized Haggard for his unoriginality, poor character development, and weak writing. Augustus Moore, for example, commented that there was really little new in the novel - immortals and lost civilizations were well known in European myth and literature and had been presented better previously - and that many of the story elements were simply ridiculous, and thus he consigned the novel to the bin of penny-dreadfuls. Indeed, although Haggard proclaimed his own originality of imagination, many of the plot elements in She were common. Stories of subterranean explorations such as Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) were well known. Furthermore, Leo Vincey, upon whose family history the entire plot hangs, is not a very interesting character, and it is rather difficult to understand why Ayesha finds Leo's mediocrity attractive. Finally, Haggard's style does leave something to be desired. Although he had enough foresight to engage his former headmaster, H.A. Holden, to assist in the translation of classical Greek, his effort to impart an air of antiquity, in his use of "ye" and "thou," for example, is often awkward and anachronistic.

Nevertheless, the story of Ludwig Horace Holly's and Leo Vincey's quest for Ayesha touched something in the Western psyche, and She quickly became a bestseller. The novel went through seven editions in 1887, and new, revised editions appeared in 1888 and 1891; it has not been out of print since. Andrew Lang, a classical scholar and critic who had edited Haggard's manuscript and to whom the book was dedicated, commented that "She is a book of which it is hard to give any but a personal or subjective estimate. People are pretty sure either to admire She very hotly or to condemn the fair enchantress with extraordinary vigour." For himself, however, Lang found the book to be more than a mere novel; rather, it was a legend. Lang admired the impossibilities criticized by Moore: "the more impossible it gets, the better (to my taste) Mr Haggard does it." In Lang's estimation, She was "grown up"; "[t]he whole story is an allegory of the immortality of love, which death cannot destroy, nor the force of fire abolish it."

But Lang was hardly the only reader to embrace the novel. A decade after its publication, Sigmund Freud wrote in the Interpretation of Dreams that She was "[a] strange book, but full of hidden meaning the eternal feminine, the immortality of our emotions." Having discussed the novel with one of his patients, Freud found that the novel inspired terrifying dreams in which the death of Ayesha in the pillar of fire, representing the end of immortality, was interpreted as Freud's own fears about the possible insignificance of his own work. And Freud's student, Carl Gustave Jung, found in Ayesha a perfect archetype of the Anima , the eternal, ideal woman all men seek, and in Haggard's novel an expression of its universality. C. S. Lewis concluded that "[t]he mythical status of She is indisputable."

On the surface, She is quite similar to King Solomon's Mines or Allan Quartermain : all three share the basic theme of the quest into unknown territory. However, whereas King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quartermain were intended as boy's adventure novels, She is more sophisticated. The object of the quest in King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quartermain is treasure. In She , however, the object of the quest is Ayesha and therefore what she represents: immortality, knowledge, truth. As Norman Etherington pointed out, the protagonists - and the reader with them - are required to unravel the various layers of the novel, unveiling the truth at its center. The story is introduced to us by an "Editor" - who vaguely resembles Haggard himself - but the "Editor' is not the true author of the tale; rather, the story is presented to the reader as a manuscript written by Ludwig Horace Holly. But even then, the story Holly wishes to tell is actually the story of Leo Vincey and Ayesha. The artifact that reveals the mystery surrounding the Vincey family is likewise presented as a series of layers to be unraveled. When Leo reaches maturity at the age of twenty-five, Holly and he retrieve the iron box bequeathed to Leo by his long-deceased father. Within the rusted iron box they find a locked ebony box, and within that box they find a silver box engraved with sphinxes. Inside that box, underneath some indeterminate material, is a parchment and finally the sherd of Amenartas wrapped in yellow linen. As Holly and Leo open boxes and unravel linens, they are moved backward in time from modern England to medieval France to ancient Rome and finally to Hellenistic Egypt. Likewise, Leo's remarkable ancestry has its roots in Egypt and then progresses through Greece, Rome, medieval France, and finally modern England, and so presents a genealogy of nineteenth-century European civilization.

Furthermore, their quest to unravel the mystery of Leo's ancestors entails a physical journey from England past many obstacles into the unknown interior of the African continent. Having barely survived a terrific storm that destroys their ship off the eastern coast of Africa, Holly, Leo, their man-servant Job, and the Muslim captain of the ship paddle down a river into the African interior where they encounter the native Billali. Billali escorts the adventurers through a volcanic crater and then, blindfolded, into a second volcano at the center of which stands the lost city of Kôr, the last remnant of a once-great civilization. At the center of Kôr stands the Temple of Truth, and in the Temple's central court stands a statue of the veiled goddess Truth. An inscription on the base of the statue reads:
Is there no man that will draw my veil and look upon my face, for it is very fair? And a voice cried, "Though all those who seek after thee desire thee: Behold! Virgin art thou, and Virgin thou shalt go till Time be done. There is no man born of woman who may draw thy veil and live, nor shall be. By death only can thy veil be drawn, oh Truth!"
Thus, the quest leads the heroes from the modern, "civilized" British empire into the heart of "savage" Africa and a collapsed civilization, into the bowels of the earth itself, in their search for Truth.

Kôr is inhabited by the Amahagger, a savage, cannibalistic people, who are ruled by the white queen Ayesha, She-who-must-be-obeyed. Ayesha seems a living avatar of the veiled goddess of Truth ensconced in the Temple of Truth. Like the statue, Ayesha appears wrapped in gauze not unlike a mummy, though it is clear that Ayesha is a stunningly beautiful woman. Ayesha, however, also represents an intellectual puzzle: she knows truths about the world and life that Holly cannot fathom. Eventually she unveils her secret: Death does not exist, only Change, and Holly begins to realize that Ayesha has lived for more than 2,000 years. Fearing death in a Godless, Darwinian world lacking a Christian afterlife, Haggard offers another possibility influenced by Eastern mysticism: reincarnation. No one truly dies; although one body may be killed, the spirit will appear again. Thus, Leo is the reincarnation of Kallikrates, Ayesha's ancient love, and Ustane is the reincarnation of Amenartas, Kallikrates' ancient love. Ayesha is the only member of the love triangle who has not reincarnated because her love for Kallikrates has kept her alive awaiting his return. Ayesha suggests, however, that she, too, will die one day, but then she may reappear somewhere else (an idea that will form the basis of Haggard's sequel, Ayesha, the Return of She , in which Holly and Leo seek her in Tibet). Holly asks to gaze upon Ayesha's face, to view the "truth" as it were, and Ayesha complies, allowing her gauzy vestments to fall from her, unveiling her body as she has already unveiled her secret knowledge, and Holly is nearly blinded by her beauty. Thus, beauty is truth, truth beauty. Indeed, Ayesha even compares herself to the statue of Truth: "I, too am a virgin goddess," she says, "not to be moved of any man, save one."

But Ayesha (Beauty, Truth) is unattainable to Holly; blinded by her beauty, he stumbles from her presence. It is Leo, the reincarnation of Kallikrates, Leo's ancestor and Ayesha's ancient lover, whom Ayesha desires. Desiring to share her immortal life with Leo, Ayesha leads the heroes further into the "womb of the earth," into a cavern containing a pillar of fire, the Fountain of Life. Ayesha once again bathes in the flames that gave her immortality, but now the flames rob her of her vitality. She mysteriously devolves, losing her youth and beauty, her vast age finally catching up to her, leaving only a shriveled, desiccated, monkey-like corpse. Thus, the statue's warning is proven: Truth's veil can only be drawn in death.

Haggard was strongly influenced by Darwin's theory of evolution, though like many of his era he sought to apply biological processes to civilization itself. At several points in the novel, the heroes are transported backward in time, in a sense reversing the evolutionary process. This happens linguistically in tracing Leo's ancestry, in terms of civilization in the physical journey from "civilized" England through a "semi-civilized" Islamic East to savage Africa, geologically in the journey into the volcano that houses Kôr and then into the "womb of the earth" itself to witness the primal Fountain of Life. Finally, the evolutionary process is reversed when Ayesha bathes in the Fountain of Life. Instead of receiving eternal life as she expected, the Fountain strips her of her youth, and she is described as shriveling into a "little hideous monkey," Darwin's biological ancestor of man. At all of these points, then, the reader is reminded just how highly "evolved" and "civilized" the nineteenth-century Englishman was. He was the heir to the great "Western" civilizations: Egypt, Greece, Rome, medieval Christianity, and industrial England; he was vastly superior to the backward Muslims and savage Africans - the cannibalistic Amahagger, after all, have been dominated by a white woman for 2,000 years.

At the same time, however, Haggard's novel offered a warning to nineteenth-century Englishmen. Haggard was a political conservative who grew up at a time of rapid change. He came from a family of landed gentry that found itself losing its status in society. No longer able to sustain the family on the rents gleaned from the property he owned, Haggard's father had been unable to send his son to a university as he had his older brothers. The last element of social status William Haggard was able to use acquired for Henry his post as private secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, a colonial governor. But here, too, Haggard witnessed the decline of tradition and empire. Although the South Africa colony annexed the Transvaal in 1877 and Haggard found a place in that colony's administration, his career as colonial administrator was short-lived, as war against the Zulu and rebellion among Boer colonists led to bloodshed. The South African conflicts quickly led to the dissolution of Disraeli's Conservative government and the election of the liberal Gladstone, who set about dismantling the South African colony. Haggard blamed Gladstone for the loss of the colony and reviled him as a traitor to his country, remaining a life-long Tory conservative.

Haggard's world seemed to be disintegrating around him. Unable to embrace the modern world, he clung to the past. These sentiments creep into She , not least in the multitude of evolutionary regressions mentioned above. The original manuscript of She was rife with overt criticism of the liberal government: the Liberals were accused of stealing from one class (Haggard's own landed gentry) to support another (the urban poor), Ayesha suggests that the solution to the "Irish problem" is to kill them all, and Holly fantasizes of Ayesha killing Gladstone. These references and others were toned down at the urging of Andrew Lang. Still, there is warning there for the discerning reader. Holly and Leo's journey into the past makes it clear not only that modern England is the heir of great civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome but that other great civilizations have collapsed and faded into the mists of time. Ayesha tells Holly that the great empire of Kôr had flourished some 6,000 years ago; now, only its ruins - the lone city with its Temple of Truth - remain. It would seem that even the dominion of the greatest empires might collapse.

Haggard realized that "evolution" is not necessarily "progress." Indeed, in the example of Kôr, "evolution" had actually led to regression. The Amahagger are portrayed as the degenerate descendents of Kôr who openly embrace matriarchy and cannibalism. The matriarchal social structure at first seems liberal: the Amamhagger trace their ancestry through women and are ruled by women, and it is the woman who approaches the man in regard to relationships, as Ustane does with Leo. Such sexual inversion would be viewed as anarchic to the average Victorian male, threatening to overturn the entire social structure. In reality, however, the women of Kôr have little freedom or power. Billai, the heroes' native guide to Kôr, comments, "We worship themup to a point, till at last they get unbearable. Then we rise, and kill the old ones as an example to the young ones, and to show them that we are the strongest." Traditional gender stereotypes are therefore preserved as women are defined as emotional and irrational and ultimately subject to men. Even Ayesha, the great white queen, defines herself primarily in terms of her beauty and pleasure. The women of Kôr, then, appear as male fantasies: sexually liberated but still submissive. The Amahagger are also startlingly uninhibited and openly express their violent natures as well as their sexuality. It is a woman, for example, who organizes the cannibalistic sacrifice of Mahomed. The Amahagger guiltlessly indulge their violent and sexual tendencies. Freud would later comment that the inner drives for sex and death must be repressed in order for civilization to exist, but the Amahagger seem to repress neither, and so they have become "uncivilized." The final suggestion of this evolutionary regression is Ayesha's death. Shriveling into a "little hideous monkey," she regresses biologically into man's primate ancestor.

If ancient Kôr can collapse, degenerate, and its white queen regress, could not an equally grand British empire with its queen, Victoria, also collapse and regress? The story of She reminds the reader that the empire need not last for eternity, but it might be possible to prevent, or at least delay, such collapse for a time. Despite collapse and degeneration, Ayesha has controlled the savage Amahagger for 2,000 years. Ayesha's rule over the Amahagger is explained in remarkably amoralistic terms of social Darwinism. When Ayesha condemns Ustane to death for desiring Leo, Holly questions her, "For what crime? She is guilty of naught that thou art not guilty of thyself, oh Ayesha."
Where is her sin? [Ayesha replies] Her sin is that she stands between me and my desire. Well, I know that I can take him from her - for dwells there a man upon this earth, oh Holly, who could resist me if I put out my strength? Men are faithful for so long only as temptations pass them by. If the temptation be but strong enough, then will the man yield, for every man, like every rope, hath his breaking strain, and passion is to men what gold and power are to women - the weight upon their weakness. For man can be bought with woman's beauty, if it be but beautiful enough; and woman's beauty can be ever bought with gold, if only there be gold enough. So was it in my day, and so it will be to the end of time. The world is a great mart, my Holly, where all things are for sale to whom who bids the highest in the currency of our desires.
The world is ruled by desire, gold, and power and therefore by man's and woman's greed. In such a world only the strongest may survive.
Is it, then, a crime, oh foolish man, to put away that which stands between us and our ends? Then is our life one long crime, my Holly, since day by day we destroy that we may live, since in this world none save the strongest can endure. Those who are weak must perish. It is the scheme of things. Thou sayest, too, that a crime breeds evil, but therein thou dost lack experience; for out of crimes come many good things, and out of good grows much evil. The cruel rage of the tyrant may prove a blessing to the thousands who come after him, and the sweetheartedness of a holy man may make a nation slaves.
Benevolence is dangerous; only terror keeps people in check. Ayesha condemns those Amahagger that killed Mahomed to torture and death. Holly pleads for their reprieve, but Ayesha justifies her sentence:
My Holly, it cannot be. Were I to show mercy to those wolves, your lives would not be safe among this people for a day. Thou knowest them not. They are tigers to lap blood, and even now they hunger for your lives. How thinkest thou that I rule this people? I have but a regiment of guards to do my bidding, therefore it is not by force. It is by terror. My empire is of the imagination.
As Wendy Katz has noted, Ayesha represents unlimited imperial power. But Ayesha is not cruel for cruelty's sake but because it is necessary. Although she does not regret her actions, she laments the necessity of her actions; having revealed her truth and her beauty to Holly, She admits, "memory haunts me from age to age, and passion leads me by the hand - evil have I done, and from age to age evil I shall do, and sorrow shall I know till my redemption comes."

Ayesha's "people" are clearly in need of rule for their own benefit. Left on their own, the Amahagger would succumb entirely to their savagery, wantonly indulging their sexual and violent natures, and what civilization still existed in central Africa would disappear entirely. This is a typical attitude of many nineteenth-century imperialists. Incapable of ruling themselves, the backward peoples of the world required the white man (or woman, in the case of Ayesha) to raise them up out of savagery to civilization. Haggard had probably heard of the spectacular discovery of great stone ruins in Zimbabwe. Unable to believe that Africans had ever been capable of the architectural or engineering feats necessary to erect such monuments, many Europeans attributed them to the ancient Phoenicians, whom they believed had settled in central and southern Africa - a theory now largely discredited. In similar vein, Haggard suggests that civilization can only exist in Africa under the aegis of the white man (or woman). Gladstone's benevolent social legislation and anti-imperialism seem to threaten the collapse of the British Empire; only the lamentably tyrannical rule of Britain's own queen seems capable of preserving it.

The British Empire lasted somewhat longer than Haggard's own life, though it continued to decline over the course of the next century. Haggard's career seemed to parallel that decline. He continued to serve his country and stood for Parliament in 1895, though he lost. He also served on several Royal Commissions to study a variety of projects, though few of his recommendations were carried out. Nevertheless, in 1912 he was recognized for his service by being named on the New Years' Honours List. He wrote several more romances after She , often inspired by his travels and interest in history; Cleopatra (1889) appeared after he visited Egypt, Eric Brighteyes (1891) after he visited Iceland, Montezuma's Daughter (1893) after he visited Mexico, the Pearl Maiden (1903) and The Brethren (1904) after he visited Florence, Cyprus, and Palestine, and Fair Margaret (1907) after he visited Italy and Spain. These novels sold well, allowing Haggard to support his family, but none of them achieved the success of She. The story of Ayesha continued to attract attention throughout Haggard's life. Besides the subsequent editions of the book, a stage adaptation of the novel was performed in 1888, and Georges Méliès produced a film version (La Danse du Feu (Pillar of Fire) ) in 1899. Six more film versions followed in Haggard's lifetime. Under popular pressure for similar adventures - and no doubt out of financial necessity - Haggard produced one sequel, Ayesha, the Return of She (1905), and two prequels, She and Allan (1921) and Wisdom's Daughter (1923), but they were of mediocre effort at best.

H. Rider Haggard died on 14 May 1925, but his influence has remained strong. She has never been out of print and has been translated into many languages. It has been filmed five times since Haggard's death, including Hammer Studios' 1964 version starring Ursula Andress, Peter Cushing, and Cristopher Lee, and Dirk de Villiers' The Virgin Goddess (1973), which exploited the racist and sexual anxieties of white South Africans. Haggard essentially invented the romance of the lost civilization, and many writers followed in his footsteps; Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World , James Hilton's Lost Horizon , Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, and Pellucidar novels, and even H. P. Lovecraft's alien civilizations all owe the idea of ancient, lost civilizations lurking in the farthest corners of the earth to Haggard. And the image of Ayesha, the white queen ruling a long-lost civilization, pining for her lost love, and finally shriveling in the flames of the Fountain of Life, has haunted the "scientific romance" from Clark Ashton Smith to John Russell Fearn's The Golden Amazon to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Star Trek . C. G. Jung and C. S. Lewis were correct: She has become a myth, an aspect of our modern Western consciousness that is easily recognized, and Ayesha, with beauty and secret knowledge, remains eternally present, drawing us onward.

Clifton G. Ganyard is a writer from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
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  • Posted May 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:


    Holly and Leo travel to Africa to unravel a mystery about Leo's line of ancestry. There they encounter an ancient goddess who believes Leo is someone from the past.

    Haggard was excellent at writing adventure novels and this is no exception. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! (There are 4 books to the She series and all should be read!)

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2014

    The story of She by H. Rider Haggard is an excellent adventure s

    The story of She by H. Rider Haggard is an excellent adventure story. Yet it is much more, this tale influenced both Tolkien and C. S. Lewis in their fantasy tales. Also it profoundly affected Sigmund Freud. The book gives a glimpse into the mind of colonial England through the genre of adventure fantasy. I find the four novels that contain the character Ayesha and her ill fated love of Kallikrates (Holly) a fascinating read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2015

    For its time.......

    Quite an imagination to tell a tale which could have happened, couldn't it? Good story telling for its day.

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