This is the story of Ayesha, set down in Professor Holly's words, in which an immortal magical queen talks about the history of her life, leading up to the events in the Ayesha series of books. This fourth and final novel in the Ayesha series gives the reader a chance to finally delve a little bit into the mind and memories of Queen Ayesha of Kor, a woman who as at times appeared crazy, scary, awesome and tragic in the previous three novels. Wisdom's Daughter is unusual in that it is written as part of the memoirs of Professor Holly, the original protagonist from the first novel and the narrator of the second novel, but this time he narrates the story of from Ayesha's perspective exclusively, as she narrated it to him.
Ayesha recounts her childhood and adolescence on the Arabian peninsula, the daughter of a chieftain. Ayesha was learned, educated, wise beyond her years and stunningly beautiful. She enraptured all the princes of Arabia who saw her or heard of her beauty. She caused wars for her hand, which at first her father hoped to leverage for his own advantage, but the jealousy over Ayesha spiraled out of control, to the point where the Pharaoh of Egypt was ready to go to war to marry her. Unknown to everyone, Ayesha had begun nursing her magical powers and was tired of being fought over, so she fled into the wilderness with an Egyptian sorcerer who was her tutor. Together with her tutor, they traveled through the Mediterranean and Europe, learning in Rome and Greece and Palestine and Egypt, where Ayesha became a priestess of Isis.
At this time another powerful woman also lives in Egypt - Princess Amenartas, the pharaoh's daughter. Both women fall in love with a swashbuckling Greek mercenary in the palace. This mercenary has hired himself out to the pharaoh. His name is Kallikrates, and the epic rivalry between Amenartas and Ayesha, a rivalry that will span lifetimes and centuries, begins. When Amenartas tries to have Ayesha raped and murdered, the Goddess Isis intervenes. Every time it looks as if one of Amenartas' schemes will prevail, Ayesha prays to Isis and Isis responds. But Amenartas marries Kallikrates, to Ayesha's sorrow, and Ayesha decides to devote herself to spreading Isis' light. Her zeal leads her into interior Africa, until she reaches Kor, where she finds her old sorcerer and teacher from her girlhood. He is about to die, but tells Ayesha before he dies that he has found the Pillar of Life, and that if she passes through it, it will make her young and beautiful forever. It is only the thought of Kallikrates, and Ayesha's own aging body, that makes Ayesha step through the Pillar of Life. However, when Amenartas and Kallikrates come to seek Ayesha out in Kor, Ayesha's magic and beauty are so great and terrible that Kallikrates dies after she finally unveils herself, and Amenartas is banished. Ayesha must wait for the reincarnation of her love while Amenartas sows the seed of revenge in her descendants through the origin story she passes down. And so the novel ends, at the place where the original novel begins, bringing the story of Ayesha full circle.
Best part of story, including ending:
I thought it was entertaining to hear the narration from Ayesha for once, told in her own voice as narrated to Professor Holly. On the other hand, I did not enjoy the biblical-era language. It made reading a little less immersive.
Best scene in story:
I enjoyed the scene in which the goddesses Isis and Aphrodite compete to claim Ayesha as their disciple and each seek to woo her, but it is Isis that Ayesha chooses, earning the enmity of Aphrodite.
Opinion about the main character:
I love Ayesha, who really is the main character of this novel. She's empowered though cursed, and is a really compelling figure. And I love that an ethnic woman gets the "alpha" role in a Victorian novel.