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on 30 May 2016
A shame - I so wanted to fall in love with this novel and tried very hard to do so (I even visited the novel's real life location, as outlined later on) but, ultimately, it proved to be a disappointment.

Having consumed and enjoyed most of Dion Fortune's non-fiction over the last 20 years or so, I thought it about time I had a look at her novels of occult fiction. 'The Sea Priestess', being the most highly acclaimed, seemed like a good place to start. I'm a longstanding aficianado of late Victorian, fin de siècle and early to mid 20th century weird/occult/horror literature, and this, along with my existing appreciation of Fortune as a writer and occultist, led me to presume that this novel would become an instant favourite of mine. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

I have a few issues with 'The Sea Priestess'. The main one is this - on the evidence of this novel, I don't think that Dion Fortune had any particular talent at writing fiction beyond that which any well-educated person from the early 20th century could display. She excelled at demystifying complicated magical systems and religious doctrines and at elucidating her ideas on all manner of esoteric subjects, and she consistently presented them in a way which, to this day, remains lively, compelling and thought-provoking. It is these qualities that make her non-fiction so impressive, but I think it is these very same qualities, combined with the rather schoolmarmish will to teach that lies beyond them, which hinder her attempts at fiction.

In her brief introduction to the novel, Dion Fortune writes that 'The Mystical Qabalah', her classic work of occult theory, is best appreciated when read in conjunction with 'The Sea Priestess'. The former is the theory and the latter is the practice. One without the other is not the full picture. She writes that she wants her students to take the novel seriously. It's a noble idea but I think that, in wanting to have the novel used as a teaching tool, it acted as a barrier to simply writing good fiction. For all her wisdom and her will to impart knowledge and share ideas, she appears to have had no great understanding of what actually makes a good novel. Non-fiction was clearly her forte and my opinion is that she should have stuck to it. Exactly the same can be said for that other giant of 20th century occultism, Aleister Crowley, whose two novels, 'Moonchild' and 'Diary Of A Drug Fiend' are so appealing in theory but are, for the most part, quite tedious to read.

Considering the relative obscurity of Dion Fortune and occult fiction in general, I would imagine that a lot of the reviews for this novel come from the partisan crowd, i.e. existing practitioners, adherents and explorers of various forms of spirituality, mysticism and witchcraft. Bearing this in mind, you may be able to see beyond what is to my mind forced prose, stiff and rather priggish characters and many hard-going, unsuccessful attempts at generating the tension that any good novel requires. If this is the case, then 'The Sea Priestess' is undoubtedly full of insight regarding magic ritual, male and female archetypes, the spiritual rebalancing of the genders, visualisation skills and the astral world, and numerous other esoteric subjects that will be of interest to the dedicated seeker. Although I have an interest in the above, I also have a interest in enjoying novels that captivate and thrill and flow and carry the reader along effortlessly towards their conclusion, and in the case of 'The Sea Priestess', the deficiencies of the latter certainly outweigh the value of the former. Dion Fortune's sense of humour and sharp wit, of which there is much evidence in this novel, her vast erudition, and the occasional sense of pathos she generates (e.g. the scene where the 'mooncalf' slips into the sea and is never seen again) are not enough to rescue the novel as a whole.

The one really good thing I got out of 'The Sea Priestess'? When I was about halfway through and struggling to feel the love, I visited Brean Down, which is a promontory on the Somerset coast just south of Weston-super-Mare. This is the novel's setting and a place that Dion Fortune knew well. To anyone reading the novel, I strongly recommend doing the same. As well as being a beautiful stretch of coastline and an exhilarating, awe-inspiring walk along a headland that extends out into the sea for over a mile, it will undoubtedly enhance your experience of the novel, whatever that may be. For me, the visit brought to life 'The Sea Priestess' in ways that, sadly, Dion Fortune's prose couldn't.
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on 10 January 2016
Fortune's classic. What more is there to say? This was my second attempt, having tried to read it a couple of decades ago. Probably too young then. This time around, I was positively swept along with the story, and with these additional years behind me, much of the ritual element was fascinatingly clear in a way that had simply eluded me first time around.

The writing is genuinely evocative, Fortune paints in words, in a surprisingly modern style, giving a very real sense of the location and form of the landscapes in which the story takes place. I have no doubt of the existence of a farmhouse sheltered in the lee of a cliff in which the cave of the Sea Priestess is situated. And you know that a book has affected you when you start dreaming in the landscape created by the author!

Knight's introduction gives a context to the book, and some useful background about Fortune herself. If it's your first time to the work, I'd definitely read it after. He has obviously never heard that spoilers are not the done thing!

5 stars? I'd give it 6 if I could! :)
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on 4 August 2014
This is a book that I wish I had bought as a real book instead of the Kindle version as it's actually way too good for just the Kindle. I have read this twice now since I bought it and it's become one of my absolute favourite books of all time. I see other reviewers think the style of writing to be old fashioned and stuffy but I love old stories from that era anyway and like the way it's written a lot. I'm definitely not any kind of occult expert but I personally found this book to be deeply magical and I think it's the kind of book that reveals more of itself each time you go back to it. I don't actually think it matters if you know anything about the magical side of things. Anybody could read this story and enjoy it as it is. It's just a really beautiful story that makes me want to go and live in a house by the sea, spending the summer evenings dancing around fires built with juniper wood beneath the stars.
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VINE VOICEon 18 February 2018
A great read, which luckily, I have in book form. This ebook, badly transcribed, full of typos as well. An utter waste of money. No wonder bit was dirt cheap.
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on 24 February 2017
This book is a novel and it was written way ahead of its time, I loved it and some of the words in it are beautiful almost like a chant
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on 1 September 2017
Not read yet due to other studies. But knowing Dion Fortune's works, I just know I will completely resonate, looking forward to reading it.
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on 16 April 2017
Excellent book. Loved the characters and writing. Very interesting.
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on 3 May 2014
Well not much happens for the first third of the book, which is a bit of a drag, but then things start to get interesting, and all the action is in the last third of the book. It is a beautiful story with some poignant truths. Trust me, it's worth reading through the slow start to get to the good bits.
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on 13 January 2018
The Sea Priestess is such a wonderful book. Wilfred is absolutely hilarious. I didn't expect to laugh out loud so much. I have read it a few times over the years. And am about to again 😊❤
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on 9 October 2017
A good read
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