Sunday, 23 October 2016

She by Henry Rider Haggard - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:

'Haggard's spellbinding She is narrated by Ludwig Horace Holly where Leo Vincey, an adventurer, is determined to investigate the death of his ancestor Kallikrates believed to be an ancient Egyptian priest. A 2000 year-old Queen of the lost world of Kor, had slain Kallikrates. After a rigorous journey to the catacombs of Kor, Vincey confronts the She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, the white ruler of Amahagger natives.'

She is a Victorian era novel written by Sir Henry Rider Haggard following the success of King Solomon's Mines (click to read the review) focusing on the same them - lost world. A Cambridge man, Horace Holly is approached by his dying friend who tells him his family history; that his ancestor is a descendant of Kallikrates, an ancient Egyptian priest slain by the white Queen of Kor in Africa, who is in fact, still alive. A set of documents are handed over to Holly where he is appointed as the guardian of his friend's son, Leo Vincey and on his 25th birthday, these were to be shown to him and it is upto Leo whether they wish to go in search of the queen or not.

I felt the author created a very solid base for a great story to emerge, an ancient race supposedly ruled by a queen who has lived for more than two thousand years and of course, a great adventure that followed, in search for the queen. The author also gave a lot of focus to details, on the lifestyle of the indigenous Amahagger people and their customs and also the landscapes that they travelled along, in order to meet the queen. Amahagger were an interesting people, especially considering the author contemplated a matriarchal tribe during the 19th century, where children were seen as descendants of the woman and of course, they unconditionally obey their queen. I also loved the way the author described the sculptures and the architecture inside the caves of Kor and my favourite, was perhaps, the conversation between Ayesha (the queen) and Horace Holly, wherein the latter takes her through the last 2000 years in brief and how she is hardly persuaded by Holly's idea of morality and talks about the changes throughout the 2000 years of her life.  There was nothing noteworthy about the characterisation, except that of Ayesha, more so because she has got a lot to tell and yes, though she claims to be strong in her principles, ultimately, she seeks only the love of Kallikrates / Leo Vincey (his descendant) and is willing to do anything for it.

However, I have to say that this book was no amazing adventure for they manage to find the queen with relative ease (except certain minor setbacks) unlike his previous book King Solomon's Mines where they struggled for the diamonds. This was more of a love story, focusing excessively on the romantic sub-plot between an Amahagger woman, Ustane and Leo and also the mad lust of Ayesha (the queen). Moreover, one could always say that this book has to be judged by the fact that it was written in 1887 but then, I can't help but observe that the three Englishmen, Horace, Leo and their servant Job, were extremely racist and had an excessive pride of being part of the most civilised race (despite their record in the colonies) and of course, the conversation between Ayesha and Holly, the latter made a lot of remarks which could easily be construed as anti-semitic by the modern author. Of course, Holly also very proudly claimed that he was a misogynist and thus wasn't very comfortable with the customs of the Amahagger. One could argue that these weren't the author's personal views for the three Englishmen in his previous book, King Solomon's Mines, were a lot less racist and cooperated with the indigenous population. Considering Holly was the narrator, maybe they were his views but then, there was no need for him to be so much of a white supremacist for the plot didn't require him to be so. I also found the use of outdated language (thou, thee, etc.) for conversations carried out in pure Arabic (but not for pidgin Arabic) a little annoying, considering, the conversation is anyway supposedly translated, there was no point in annoying the reader with such usage. 

As aforementioned, this book is more of a love story than an interesting adventure but it could certainly be read once but might be a bit of a disappointment for those who have read King Solomon's Mines. To conclude, I would award the book a rating of six on ten.

Rating - 6/10

Have a nice day,

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