From Publishers Weekly
The late Newton's wan second novel (after The Two Pound Tram) combines adventure and the rise of Abdulaziz ibn Saud in prose as dry as sand. After accompanying Lawrence of Arabia in a campaign against the Turks, Robert Willoughby returns to 1918 England for a few days with his adolescent son, Ivor, before taking off and never being heard from again. Ten years later, Ivor embarks on a quest to Arabia to find out what happened to his father, and, soon after arriving in Abha, Ivor hears tales about a legendary ex-slave turned female warrior named Na'ema who may have a connection to his father. Ivor then travels to the seaport of Hali, and from there to the desert oasis of Khurma, where he spends several days in the company of Ferdhan bin Murzak, a prosperous slave trader who sends him on yet another quest toward discovering what happened to Robert. Unfortunately, the mystery's resolution is simultaneously tepid, melodramatic, and unsurprising. The glacially paced adventure is done in by colonial stereotypes, a narrator who stumbles forward without much volition or reflection, and overly stodgy language.
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A man’s quest for the father he scarcely knows drives him to foreign lands in this historically based novel. Ivor Willoughby is just seven years old when his British army captain father leaves for the Middle East, returning home only once after eight years. Ten years later, in 1930, Ivor gets a job with the Royal Navy and heads to Arabia, the land that enchanted his father. After a dangerous sojourn to Yemen, Ivor is persuaded to adopt the Arabian way of patience, and—with information from a Turkish steamboat captain and an Arabian slave trader—he finds Etza, a former slave and seer. She provides both stories and letters from his father, revered among Arabs as Ullobi, and directs him to Na’ema, who became the legendary warrior sheikh. Accounts of tribal rivalries and power shifts are so dense, particularly early on, that the narrative becomes submerged, only to blossom near the close. Newton, who died earlier this year, is likely to be remembered more for his debut novel, The Two Pound Tram (2003), than for this more ponderous work. --Michele Leber