Travel back in time with me today, as we take a look at Steven Neil’s The Merest Loss.
A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English
hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.
When Harriet Howard becomes Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer and appears at his side in Paris in 1848, it is as if she has emerged from nowhere. How did the English daughter of a Norfolk boot-maker meet the future Emperor? Who is the mysterious Nicholas Sly and what is his hold over Harriet?
Can Harriet meet her obligations and return to her former life and the man she left behind? What is her involvement with British Government secret services? Can Harriet’s friend, jockey Tom Olliver, help her son Martin solve his own mystery: the identity of his father?
The central character is Harriet Howard and the action takes place between 1836 and 1873. The plot centres on Harriet’s relationships with Louis Napoleon and famous Grand National winning jockey, Jem Mason. The backdrop to the action includes significant characters from the age, including Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Grafton, as well as Emperor Napoleon III. The worlds of horse racing, hunting and government provide the scope for rural settings to contrast with the city scenes of London and Paris and for racing skulduggery to vie with political chicanery.
The Merest Loss is historical fiction with a twist. It’s pacy and exciting with captivating characters and a distinctive narrative voice.
The Merest Loss is a book to be enjoyed by fans of historic fiction and historians alike, finding, as it does, a delicate balance between the facts of a tempestuous period of European history and a fictionalised account of the life of one of the women caught up in the political negotiations of the time.
Reading at times a little more like a history book than a novel (albeit a far more interesting history book than any I read at school), the facts behind The Merest Loss are interspersed with splashes of colour as we get to know Harriet and the largely male characters with which she was surrounded.
Harriet is a character that I couldn’t help but be drawn to. I loved her wild nature and determination to be heard at a time when this was not encouraged in well brought up young ladies. I also found myself growing rather fond of the steeplechasing double act of Tom Olliver and Jem Mason, and I really enjoyed the chapters told from Tom’s point of view looking back over the years in which he knew Harriet. For me these chapters added a depth of humanity to the whole book.
Whilst everyone is familiar with Napoleon Bonaparte, I must confess that I knew little about his nephew Napoleon III, and so found this a fascinating lesson in European history.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steven Neil has a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics, a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the Open University and an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. In his working life he has been a bookmaker’s clerk, management tutor, management consultant, bloodstock agent and racehorse breeder. He is married and lives in rural Northamptonshire.
Many thanks to Steven and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of this tour and for providing my copy of the book. Make sure you have a look at the other blogs taking part.