Tuesday 9 November 2021

#BookReview - The Merest Loss by Steven Neil #HistoricalRomance #HistoricalFiction @stevenneil12

The Merest Loss
By Steven Neil

Publication Date: 21st November 2020
Publisher: Independently Published
Page Length: 368 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Romance

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?

She gathers herself and stands up, as if she has stepped forward, centre stage, to deliver a soliloquy.

‘I want to be independent. I want to be my own woman. I want to be the best actress on the London stage. I want people to say, “There goes Harriet Howard. She is a wonderful actress.” I want to have enough money to live a comfortable life. I want to look after my parents and make them proud of me. I want to share my life with someone who I love and admire. One day, I want to have children. I want Jem Mason.’

Elizabeth Ann Harryet may have been a rebellious child, impossible to control, marching to her own drum and doing as she pleased, but with age and experience comes understanding. When she changes her name to Harriet Howard and moves to London to become an actress, she doesn’t just abandon her past, she evolves into a new person. However, there are lessons she must learn—the world is not always fair, and quick wit and a sharp tongue cannot ward off everyone.

Martin Harryet may not get on well with his mother, but at least he knows who she is. His father has remained a mystery his entire life, despite how often he asked his mother for answers. After finally being presented with a list of names, and given the mission of finding his father by himself, Martin goes on a journey to find not only the identity of his father, but to unearth the truth about his mother’s past. With the guidance of Tom Olliver, an old friend of Harriet’s, Martin starts to discover not only who his parents are, but who he really is.

Full of political scheming, a desperate desire for freedom, and blackmail, The Merest Loss by Steven Neil tells the story of how a lowly woman from Norfolk found herself in Louis Napoleon’s bedchamber, despite her heart trying to lead her away from luxury and pointing her towards the racecourse.

James ‘Jem’ Mason was infatuated with Harriet when first he saw her. Their relationship may have been frowned upon, but journalists will write what they want. Harriet’s career on the stage was blossoming, and Jem was one of the most sought-after jockeys, his prowess upon a horse unmatched by any other in the profession. However, when Harriet finds herself in a meeting full of threats, bribery, and intimidation, with a man called Nicholas Sly, both Harriet’s and Jem’s lives are turned upside-down. Harriet’s steel-eyed determination to stand up for herself starts to crumble when, despite being a highly rated actress, she stops getting roles, and Jem starts to see other jockeys take his place upon the horses he expected to ride, and when he does ride, his safety is less than guaranteed. With seemingly no other option if she wants to secure Jem’s future and, indeed, to keep him alive, Harriet distances herself from those she loves and agrees to do what Nicholas Sly wants her to do. After all, the British Government's secret services had the power to do a lot worse to those she loved if she didn’t accept.

Harriet is an incredibly strong woman who doesn’t let men walk over her. She can stand up for herself, make her own choices, and put people in their place. Yet, when she agrees to Nicholas Sly’s demands, she loses her ability to do so. She must curb her tongue, learn her lines and take on the biggest role of her career, for she cannot lose it once she has stepped off the stage, but must maintain the character every waking minute of the day. Her strength, her true self, is hidden away in a box, waiting for the day when she is released from her obligations, her loved one’s safety is assured, and the hold Nicholas Sly has on her is released. Waiting for the day, she can, once again, hold Jem in her arms and feel safe and secure.

Harriet’s work puts many different people in her path, and her life becomes a state of turmoil as she tries to do right by her young son, while also keeping the British Government happy to ensure her parents live comfortably and there are no unnecessary threats to Jem’s life. While many say they have Harriet’s best interests at heart, it is difficult to know who to trust when half the government will simply tell you what you want to hear, and the other half will tell you nothing. One man, in particular, Nathaniel Strode, seems the only man able to resist Harriet’s natural charm, and, while managing her finances, Strode becomes one of the few people Harriet can trust completely. 

The relationship that Harriet has with Louis Napoleon was born from a scheme, but Harriet becomes a vital part of the British Government’s plans, and, without her, things seem likely to fall apart. The political aspects of this novel are managed with an in-depth knowledge of the era, and it is clear that many hours have gone into researching and moulding the story around the historical truth. An alliance between England and France would be desirable, but without someone the British could trust, it would be a risky union. However, with someone in power that the British could control, someone that the British worked carefully to put in that position—they would essentially have the power of both countries without the concerns of a ruler backing out of agreements, or changing the plans.

This novel may be focused on the political moves of England and France in the build-up to the Crimean War, but the world of horse racing provides a rounded image of the era. As France takes on the English sport and builds their own racecourse, some of the most desirable jockeys in England make the trip to race at the Chantilly Racecourse. Jem and his friend, Tom Olliver, are among those who journey, and, with it being such a big event, Harriet is invited to attend. The relationship between Jem and Harriet is like the racing, a background aspect of this novel, yet it is just as important. Neither seems able to admit that they love each other, but it is impossible to deny that they do. Harriet’s involvement with the British Government is a barrier forcing them apart, yet it is a barrier that Jem does not know about and, if he did, it would be a fence he would eagerly jump.

The historical detailing in this novel has to be commended, as does the writing. Every word has its place, and every detail has been meticulously researched. Neil is a talented novelist, who has not only penned a novel of intrigue, drama, and coordination from a political standpoint, he has instilled the story with a sense of duty, desperation, and love. Historical characters come back to life among the pages of this book.

The Merest Loss by Steven Neil is a novel that will not only ensnare you, it will maintain its hold on you long after you have turned the final page

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Ellie Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.


This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited

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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