Paperbacks: Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters, by Philip Eade

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The Independent Culture

She knew Queen Victoria, and she appeared on Parkinson. One colonial officer thought Hollywood, which she courted, her "spiritual home"; but, until her husband abdicated in 1946, she was the Ranee of Sarawak.

The story of Sylvia Brooke, and of the "White Rajas" of northern Borneo, cries out for the sort of juicy, scandal-laden biography that her odd career fuelled. Philip Eade does the job well, with zest, colour and scholarly high spirits. He's stronger on Sylvia's showbiz and "society" romps than on the weird hybridity of Sarawak, where the Brookes ruled in their own right, not as colonial implants. Shelve it with Maugham rather than Conrad.