This adventure story, wildly popular when first published in England in 1887, follows Leo Vancey and Horace Holly on an expedition to Africa. They encounter many serious and dangerous trials, including shipwreck, sickness, and hostile natives, before discovering a legendary lost city in a system of underground caverns. It is here that they meet Ayesha, or She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, a white queen who is wise, beautiful, terrible in her love, and two thousand years old. Ayesha is a mythologically monstrous and all-powerful female, as mysterious and frightening as she is desirable, and absolutely lethal. She is both of the imagination and immediately real, for her magical walk through a pillar of fire has rendered her immortal, yet she lives on interminably to wait for the reincarnation of her love Kallikrates. When Ayesha becomes certain that Leo is her reincarnated love, he and his friend must decide if the goal of their quest is worth risking their lives with a woman who is deadlier than the male.