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The Mistress of Abha [Paperback]

William Newton
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 Jan 2011
The year is 1930 and the British are in Arabia. Ivor Willoughby, a young Orientalist, embarks on an ambitious quest to find his father, an officer abroad with the British Army. In all of Ivor's life, Robert has returned to England only once, bedraggled and wild-eyed with tales of As'ir, a land of Sheikhs and white-turbaned bandits, where he is fighting alongside Captain Lawrence and is known by the name 'Ullobi'.

After that single meeting which left such a mark on his son, Robert is never heard from again. Ten years on, Ivor must find out what became of him. So he sets out on the journey of a lifetime. Travelling to Cairo to join the Locust Bureau, then circuitously to Abha, Yemen, and along the Red Sea coast, Ivor searches everywhere for clues about Ullobi, but no one appears to remember him. Or perhaps they are afraid to admit to it. Along the way Ivor hears whispers of a woman warrior called Na'ema who was once a slave. Her story seems tantalisingly connected with his father's, and Ivor finds himself in the misty heights of Ayinah looking for an Abyssinian seer who was carried on the same slave ship as Na'ema in 1914 and might unlock the mystery...

In this dazzling epic, William Newton brings to life Lawrence's Arabia in fascinating and vivid detail. The Mistress of Abha is a tale of Empire, of wild daring, of devastating love and an utterly surprising heroine.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (17 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140880980X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408809808
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 906,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description



'Very occasionally one comes across a book which, in its unexpected delights, inspires one to leap about wild with praise, and rush out to buy copies for friends. This first work by William Newton, retired doctor, will surely have this effect on many readers . . . Newton is a wonderful find, it's my book of the year and I shall give it to everyone for Christmas' (Spectator)

'I predict that this book will become something of a cult. There is an obvious surface charm to the elegant writing, whimsical story and delightfully Shell-Guide-style jacket. But beneath that it has enough of the unexpected, the unexplained, even the weird, to go on haunting the reader's imagination long after he has put the book down' (Country Life)

'The Two Pound Tram deserves to be a classic, as much beloved by grandparents as by grandchildren and every generation in between. Don't miss it' (Saga)

'Enchanting' (Guardian)

Book Description

A mesmerising tale of Empire, wild daring, love and conquest in Lawrence's Arabia

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Old fashioned adventure yarn 17 Sep 2011
By Elizabeth Taylor VINE VOICE
I liked this book despite its flaws, I think mainly because I looked up the author and read he had only written 2 books - so for him this was his tour de force, the book he had to get out. The storyline is rather simple, the son of an army officer who fought with Lawrence (of Arabia) fame in the first world war has not been seen for a good 10 years. Following in the family footsteps and a military career he determines to follow his father into the orient - and find him - along the way he has many adventures in the arabian peninsula of the 1920s-30s where Ibn Saud is slowly installing his brand of Islam and he meets traders, and, slaves. Its an old fashioned colonial tale of military empire man of the stiff upper lip variety, being drawn into the orient which was then glamourous and exotic and full of things to be discovered.

Of course all that is a cliche of the westerner and the sand and dust of arabia. This is not a perfect book by any means, at times its slow and the writing stuffy, there is a lot of descriptions of what I found to be rather boring battles. Then maybe the author meant the text to follow the stuffy, constricted society of the time or perhaps he was just not a great author or maybe both. But there were parts where he is telling one of many inter-lapping stories that I was really sucked into this rather strange world and saw a Saudi Arabia somewhat different to the forbidden one at least to westerners that exists now.

There are many things to critize and I doubt its not everyones cup of tea, but, I take my hat off to the author for his imagination and describing a world both in the west and I suspect in the east that no longer exists.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Mistress of Abha (Review) 1 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Having read William Newton's first novel "The Two Pound Tram" for which he won the Sagittarius Award for best novel, I couldn't wait to follow up with his second novel published posthumously. I wasn't disappointed.
William Newton truly captures the spirit of Arabia and he seems to be relating the novel through a personal experience. It may not be everyone's choice, but for those who have a grasp of the subject it is truly compelling and a must read. Thank you William Newton.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The mistress of Abha 23 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Can't get into it tryed a few time.There is nothing more i can say about this book but will try to read it again
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In sands of Arabia -- all cliches included 27 Dec 2010
By Alan A. Elsner - Published on Amazon.com
I'm giving this novel a generous three stars -- it's really a two and a half. It tells the story of a British soldier who goes to fight with Lawrence of Arabia in the First World War and then stays on to fight in the various wars in the Arabian Peninsula which ended up with the Saudis taking over. A few years later, his son goes to discover what became of his disappeared father.

The plot unfolds in a series of stories from various people along the way. We meet noble sheiks and beautiful, dusky harem slaves -- no cliche is omitted. We are deep in the territory of "orientalism" here. One former slave becomes a kind of earth mother to the narrator and tells her story over several months. Then we meet the disappeared officer himself in a series of hidden letters that suddenly come to light.

But the real problem with this book is that none of the characters has an authentic narrative voice. They all do things -- but the characters are paper thin. They all sound the same and feel the same. Consequently, the reader is not invested in them as real, flesh-and-blood characters.

The author has no doubt done a prestigious amount of research about the various tribes of Arabia and the wars that led to the country's unification under the stultifying rule of the al Saud family. He evidently came to novel-writing late in life but his talent as a storyteller did not really match his depth of knowledge of the setting.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars British colonialist is swept up in romantic reverie for the Arabia of his father's tales and follows his footsteps. 31 Mar 2011
By Unabridged Chick - Published on Amazon.com
Love/Hate?: Meh.
Do I like the cover?: No. I mean, it is very pretty, but the novel takes place in Saudi Arabia. There is no call for a pyramid.

Review: I didn't finish this book. I read the first 100 pages or so (120, to be exact) and the last 100 pages, and I don't think I missed anything in between.

The narration has a very odd sense to it and I can't tell if it's simply Newton's style of writing or if it's an attempt at giving the narrator, Ivor Willoughby, some personality. The story is first person but Willoughby constantly comments on his own story. If he says something odd to another character, he observes it; if he does something strange, he points it out. It's slightly clunky but grows familiar as one reads on, and I found it vaguely endearing -- until it grew tiresome.

I think the intent is for this to be a kind of epic saga -- son searching for his father - but I found it awkward and clunky and slow. There's a lot of politics and a lot of skirmishes but the narration and storyline just bored me to no end. And, ultimately, the story at it's root was just so unappealing to me. I'm not a huge fan of infidelity especially when it's part of the hero's grand romance; that, coupled with the very disturbing exoticization of the slaves, concubines, and other women in this book, left me feeling pretty gross. I'm all for a good cross-cultural romance, but when a married English officer takes on a second wife because he's all Arab 'at heart' and hates his life back in England, I find that selfish, not romantic. The narrator is very pro-Empire and colonialisation, which is accurate for the setting of the story (pre WWII, post-Lawrence of Arabia), but as a result, it's a mixture of white man's burden and the noble savage motif. It also feels a bit like cheap shorthand to create an epic quality to this story. In the end, the awkward style kept me from being fully pulled in and what I did absorb turned me off.
3.0 out of 5 stars history 16 May 2014
By Arthur Dawson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A good introduction to some Arab history. The author knew it well. Good read. Not as charming as the TwoPound Tram
5.0 out of 5 stars An alternate viewpoint : I liked it... a lot. 2 Sep 2012
By Pamela_reads - Published on Amazon.com
The Mistress of Abha is the story of Ivor Willoughby's search in Arabia for his father, Robert Willoughby, a British soldier, who had been sent to the region with his unit, and other than a brief visit home to England when Ivor was 17, had been there ever since. At 26, Ivor sets out on a journey to find out what happened to his father. Good or bad, dead or alive, he wants to know the truth.

Although his first attempts at getting a lead on his father's whereabouts come up empty, he eventually connects with the captain of a river boat who knew him and relates their adventures to Ivor and sends him to a second contact, a slave dealer, who might have some information. In this way, the story progresses; that is, an interview with one character (who relates a portion of his father's story) leads Ivor to the next character who adds another piece to the puzzle.

I liked the format of the story. Ivor narrates throughout, telling his own story, but also leading into and out of the stories told to him by other characters. I've read in many reviews that the story moves too slowly, but that is the point. On page 52, Ivor decides that his rushing about has been ineffective because his philosophy is so at odds with the Arabian world, and resolves to adapt to their ways as far as his quest. That is, he will choose no more than a general direction, and be patient, allowing his travels to be shaped by events.

I enjoyed reading historical fiction about this area of the world so much in the news today and characterized so very differently. Although most characters are fictional, some real life events and people are referred to. The names of cities, tribes and characters can seem daunting at first, and the author uses many Arabic words within the narrative, but I never had any problem understanding them in that context.

I was initially put off by so many bad reviews and ratings, but finally decided I should buckle down and start reading my early reviewer copy. If I didn't like the story, I'd know soon enough and just say so. But I was pleasantly surprised to be caught up in Ivor's story almost immediately. I read 50+ pages the first day and finished the book on the fourth day. It's not an easy read, but I liked it a lot. I may read it again one day.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Mystery of Abha 23 Oct 2010
By Utah Mom - Published on Amazon.com
The Mistress of Abha is written by William Newton, who died earlier this year. Newton spent his professional career as a doctor and started writing novels in his retirement. The Mistress of Abha is his second published novel.

This novel is set in 1930's Arabia. Ivor Willoughby has decided to search for his long lost father. He knows that his father left his mother shortly after his birth to serve with the British in Arabia. He returned for one brief visit when Ivor was a teenager and then disappeared again. Ivor is now an adult and ready to solve the mystery of his father.

The book begins slowly as it builds momentum for Ivor's adventure in Arabia but it does hold the promise of eventual thrills. I read an article by a reader who explained that she always gave a boring book fifty pages before deciding to put it down, and it seemed that in this case right at page fifty the book suddenly got interesting and exciting.

While in Arabia, Ivor meets with great danger, hears stories of tribal battles, the slave trade, love and intrigue amidst the harems, and eventually uncovers the mystery surrounding the tales of his father--Ullobi. Arabia is definitely not a dull place. Newton writes historical detail and plot well. However, what the book lacks is passion. Overall, I enjoyed The Mistress of Abha and stayed up late to finish it last night.
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