Professor Holly and Leo set out to look for the magical queen, Ayesha, who they last encountered 20 years ago and go through many adventures and dangers to find her, upon which Ayesha and Leo are united in love until his tragic death. This is the sequel to the Victorian fantasy novel She. It is set decades after the original novel. The protagonist Professor Holly has just died, but his lawyer receives his last memoirs, which are set twenty years after the events in She. I feel like re-naming this novel, and this entire saga, "The Story of Leo and All the Hot Magical Women Who Fight Over Him," but it sounds less epic, though it is more accurate.
In this second tale, Professor Holly is an old man, and Leo is now in his forties. For years they have been convinced that Ayesha, the Sorceress-Queen of Kor and Leo's lover in a previous lifetime, did not die in the events of the first novel. They seek refuge and enlightenment at a Buddhist monastery in Tibet, with the lamas. The lamas believe in reincarnation and one of them, Kou-En, recalls encountering Ayesha in one of his previous lifetimes. He warns them not to seek Ayesha out, but instead to seek true enlightenment and release from the cycle of life and death, but Leo is obsessed with finding her again. Professor Holly tries to convince Leo to give up the chase, but Leo feels guilt for the way Ayesha died, and cannot forget her beauty and her love for him. They ride out onto the steppes and appear to arrive at a central Asian kingdom which has a witch-priestess in a volcano named Hesea, in a strange parallel to Ayesha. The queen of Kaloon, the city under the shadow of this volcano, is named Atene, a beautiful, fearless horsewoman and with the powers of a sorceress. Though she is married, she falls in love with Leo, but the Priestess Hesea loves Leo too (Hesea remains secluded in her volcano, unseen). Atene's love for Leo incurs the wrath of her husband Rassen, but he cannot go against his wife. The only person with the power to order Atene around is Hesea, and Hesea demands that Atene send Leo and Professor Holly to the volcano, or risk war. Atene seems prepared to risk war, but her husband Rassen helps Professor Holly and Leo sneak out of Kaloon at midnight - only to try and kill them. Professor Holly and Leo flee on horseback from Rassen. They manage to kill him in the pursuit, but they know others are after them, so they seek shelter at the only nearby place which will protect them - Hesea's volcano.
Hesea reveals herself to be a bent and physically feeble old woman, but she declares that she is the reincarnation of Ayesha, and Atene is the reincarnation of Amenartas, who was Leo's wife in his old life. Leo says he doesn't care if she is old, he still loves Ayesha and wants her. At those words, Hesea's body transforms and she becomes young and blindingly beautiful once again, like how Ayesha once was. They settle into Ayesha's mountain temple in relative happy bliss for the first time in thousands of years, as Ayesha insists that they must wait for the auspicious time - months ahead - for their wedding, though Leo wants to get married right away. After their marriage, they will return to Kor in Africa, an ancient magical city where the Pillar of Life, a spiritual fire that gives immortality, will make Leo immortal so that he and Ayesha can live together forever. Meanwhile, Leo and Ayesha live for now in the mountain temple near Kaloon, and this time is cute and blissful, like a honeymoon period, except that Professor Holly third wheels on the side. Ayesha meanwhile writes her memoirs, including her later meeting with Allan in the third book, She and Allan, and her plans to restore the cult of Isis when she becomes Queen of the World (because Ayesha is cute like that).
Jealous Atene is not willing to give up Leo, and starts a war for him, using her own magical powers to assume the form of Ayesha and trick Leo and Professor Holly into her grasp. This causes a serious storm of jealous, possessive rage from Ayesha, and the reader wants to ask Atene how she saw the wisdom in trying to steal a man from a Stage 5 Clinger who has waited for him, killed for him, and chased him for 2000 years? Ayesha's magical powers completely destroy Atene's army and Atene's kills herself for the sake of her honor in defeat. When Ayesha and Leo kiss, her power is too great and sucks the life out of him like Rogue from the X-Men, leaving Leo tragically dead in her arms. Ayesha cremates his body in her temple and steps into the flames to die with him. A weary, mourning Professor Holly returns to England, alone and emotionally exhausted, and finishes his memoirs with the hope that Ayesha and Leo have found peace and love at last.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked the pathos and tragedy, it's sadder in this novel than it was in the original.
Best scene in story:
When the Buddhist monk talks to Leo - who is inflamed with passion and obsession for Ayesha - about the dangers of material and emotional distractions from the path to enlightenment. It was an interesting spiritual tangent in an otherwise kind of depressing novel.
Opinion about the main character:
Professor Holly is the narrator and "main character" in this novel. He is older now, and the sort of introspective weariness in his voice reflects that. I liked his paternal devotion to Leo and how he loyally follows Leo through all his perils, despite his joint pains, exhaustion, and longing for home.