July 2024
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Review: The Mistress of Abha, William Newton

the mistress of abhaIvor Willoughby’s father has been a non-existent presence in his life. Apart from a couple of weeks when Ivor was a boy, his father has spent the entirety of his life in Arabia, soldiering and having adventures. The Willoughby family have always been warriors, so when Ivor grows to manhood he realizes that he, too, longs to travel to Arabia. He aims primarily to find his father, but when he arrives in Abha he discovers that the people are not as forthcoming as he would have liked. Instead, he hears stories of a woman called Na’ema, and as he searches further wonders just how this warrior woman is tied to his father.

I very rarely outright dislike books that I choose to read these days, but unfortunately this book just did not sit right with me and I did not enjoy reading it. If I hadn’t received it from LibraryThing Early Reviewers, I can guarantee it would have been a DNF. Unfortunately I did feel obliged to review it, and so I trudged onward and managed to get the whole thing read.

At first glance, the book looks very appealing. Lately, my aim in historical fiction and history has been to experience places and stories that are new to me, that I haven’t read twenty times before. Saudi Arabia is most definitely new to me, and I loved the idea of a mysterious warrior woman. Ivor’s search for his father is clearly meant to be very epic, with lots of adventure, or at least that’s how I interpreted the premise.

Unfortunately, the book fails on these levels. The story itself is, frankly, not interesting. There is a great deal of set-up at the beginning, but when Ivor actually gets to Arabia he does very little but listen to other people tell him stories about his father. The book cover promises whispers of Na’ema’s story, but in reality her story is shouted from the rooftops and all he has to do is find her. She’s not particularly mysterious except in one aspect, which I won’t spoil but which was not actually that exciting. I couldn’t help but think the story would have been far more compelling from Ivor’s father Robert’s point of view. All the action happens around him, so why not just tell it from his perspective? The characters would surely have been more fleshed out if the reader had actually met them.

Moreover, I struggled to get along with the actual history of the book. Newton more or less drops us in it and doesn’t really explain the wider context of the story. I felt I would have liked to know which bits were true, if any, and which weren’t; this would have made it more valuable as historical fiction at least. Instead, I just feel confused, like I’ve wasted the time I spent reading it. To make matters worse, the writing isn’t even particularly good, and at times Ivor’s interjections to the reader are clunky and irritating. There is absolutely no suspense and nothing to keep the reader going through the pages of telling.

I had high hopes for The Mistress of Abha, but I was let down. As a result, I regrettably would not recommend this book.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers for review.


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