If you know me, you’ll know that I have a love of literature and a love of history, so historical fiction, especially stories based on real life are absolutely up my street! I was delighted when I was offered the opportunity to review The Merest Loss by Steven Neil. Set in a period that I am a little hazy on, about a character who I’d never heard of before I was hooked before I began.
“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 narrative voice of The Merest Loss took a little while to get used to, flitting between third and first person but in the present-tense. I confess that as a result it took me a chunk of time to make connections with the characters when reading the third person present-tense. It’s just not a narrative style that I expect in this type of fiction. After a few chapters I was engrossed though. I wanted to know more about the main character, Elizabeth Ann Haryett, and the era. The intrigue ramped up as underlying political agendas came into focus and pulled you between understanding some of the tribulations of Victorian society but wanting more for the people involved. Alongside enjoying the novel I couldn’t resist separately conducting my own research into Harriet Howard, and I really warmed towards her.
Steven Neil has deftly delved into his subject matter and this is reflected as he carefully weaves fact through his fiction. Once I was accustomed to the flow of the writing style I was drawn in. The trials of the period and the mannerisms of the people involved were all brought to life. I wanted to know what happened next, how Harriet’s story would unfold. I was willing her to stay safe and be protected.
I couldn’t work out if the obituaries in the concluding chapters were real, but from my very basic research the representation of these historical figures is spot on.
If you’re looking for a read that is based on, in my opinion, less well known characters from a fascinating period of history you won’t be disappointed in The Merest Loss. As a slight aside from the people, I was also intrigued by the locations referred to through the story, and even learnt something new about my hometown of Leamington Spa!
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.
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The book tour!
A huge thank you to Steven Neil for supplying me with a copy of The Merest Loss for review purposes, and to Rachel’s Random Resources for organising the tour. All thoughts are my own, please see my disclosure page for more information.
Please see below for further reviews of this novel.
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