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The Merest Loss by Steven Neil: bringing the past back to vibrant life

Synopsis
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.

My review
The very detailed synopsis above gives you an excellent taster of what the books action about, so it only really remains for me to tell you how beautifully written this book is. The author has an easy, flowing style. He writes in the third person present tense, which is unusual for historical fiction but works extremely well by making everything so immediate. History is repeating itself now for us.

I have to confess I was a little daunted when I saw the long list of dramatis personae that opens the book. Would I ever remember who this earl was or how that lady fits in? You don’t have to worry as the action lays out who’s who and you easily work out the roles they play in the rich tapestry of this book. The wide circle of people we meet gives a broad portrayal of society at the time.

The author has chosen a fascinating period and a particularly fascinating historical figure to write about. He has clearly done painstaking research and added plenty of imagination. I especially enjoyed the insight into horseracing in the book. That’s something that our author has a lot of interest in and it really comes alive on the pages. Letter-writing, a characteristic of the era in question, is used to great effect.

Eminently readable and very enjoyable, this lively novel brings the past back to vibrant life.

Purchase links
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Merest-Loss-Steven-Neil-ebook/dp/B077D9SHB5/
https://www.amazon.com/Merest-Loss-Steven-Neil-ebook/dp/B077D9SHB5
https://www.independentauthornetwork.com/steven-neil.html

Author bio
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.

Social media links

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100016617465298 and https://twitter.com/stevenneil12

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The Benevolent Dictator by Tom Trott: a page-turner with pauses for thought

How exciting to be taking part in this blog tour on its opening day!

Synopsis
Ben longs to be prime minister one day. But with no political connections, he is about to crash out of a Masters degree with no future ahead. So when by chance he becomes fast friends with a young Arab prince, and is offered a job in his government, he jumps at the chance to get on the political ladder.

Amal dreads the throne. And with Ben’s help he wants to reform his country, steering it onto a path towards democracy. But with the king’s health failing, revolutionaries in the streets, and terrorism threatening everyone, the country is ready to tear itself apart.

Alone in a hostile land, Ben must help Amal weigh what is best against what is right, making decisions that will risk his country, his family, and his life.

My review
This short book is the story of two idealistic young men. One, Ben, is a British student with political ambitions, the other an Arab prince, Amal. They meet at an inter-university debate, with the subject under debate being the very pertinent ‘ideology is dead’. Here and elsewhere in the novella, there’s some very interesting philosophical and political discussion.

Ben rather suddenly finds himself recruited as Amal’s advisor, but mainly friend, in Amal’s home of Argolis. The differences he encounters between his own culture and this one are sharply observed and create the atmosphere of somewhere fascinating, yet also menacing and obdurate. It’s also vicious, with public executions and other extreme punishments being meted out somewhat enthusiastically.

Just as suddenly, Amal finds himself the new king after the untimely and suspicious death of his older brother and then, soon after, his father. The moment has come for Amal to instigate that ‘ benevolent monarchy’ that he’s dreamed of. Ben determines to help him do exactly that.

However, there are just two of them fighting for change, and one only half-heartedly. Amal feels obliged to honour his father’s legacy, one very much centred on keeping power at all costs, and the young king has a stubborn entourage who like things the way they are. Rebels choose this unsettled moment to start causing trouble, and clearly there’s someone close to Amal who’s feeding them information. Unfortunately, some important people decide it must be Ben. His and Amal’s hopes collapse, with fatal yet inevitable consequences. Throughout the book, as on the cover, there are reflections of Shelley’s sonnet ‘Ozymandias’, which is one both young men know.

is a fast-paced and exciting book, yet there’s so much to think about too. Who, for example, actually is the benevolent dictator in the end? Amal? Or is it Ben, who has naively tried to instil Western values in his Arab friend? It’s all too easy to assume you are right and try to influence other to your own way of thinking.

There’s a strong and moving theme of friendship throughout too – of nominal friends and true friends, of superficiality and loyalty. So if you like a page-turner that also has you pausing and contemplating amidst the action, then this is most definitely a book for you.

Purchase links
https://tomtrott.com/tbd
www.amazon.co.uk/Benevolent-Dictator-Tom-Trott-ebook/dp/B07BZQHTDB

Author bio

Tom Trott was born in Brighton. He first started writing at Junior School, where he and a group of friends devised and performed comedy plays for school assemblies, much to the amusement of their fellow pupils. Since leaving school and growing up to be a big boy, he has written a short comedy play that was performed at the Theatre Royal Brighton in May 2014 as part of the Brighton Festival; he has written Daye’s Work, a television pilot for the local Brighton channel, and he has won the Empire Award (thriller category) in the 2015 New York Screenplay Contest. He is the proverbial Brighton rock, and currently lives in the city with his wife.

Social Media Links – www.twitter.com/tjtrott, www.facebook.com/tomtrottbooks, www.tomtrott.com

 

 

Follow the tour as it continues:

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Jack Was Here by Christopher Bardsley: haunting, challenging and powerful

Hugh Fitzgerald is damaged, physically and mentally. Invalided out of the army after being blown up in a vehicle in Iran, he’s now in a downward self-destructive spiral of drinking too much, smoking too much, depression and apathy. His ex-girlfriend is about to get married and he feels he has nothing in his life.

Then comes an unexpected plea from his over-achieving younger brother, Nick. The son of a friend of his has gone missing in Thailand. Knowing that Hugh has been there several times, and that he can handle himself when the pressure’s on, thanks to his army background, Nick suggests that Huge goes to try and find Jack and bring him home. Hugh is reluctant at first, then motivated by the fee alone. However, after some reflection he realises this mission is exactly what he needs. It seems that saving Jack may also be his own salvation. He can prove that he still has value.

He hits the ground running in Thailand, where he soon becomes immersed in its seedier side. He picks up Jack’s trail and doesn’t like where it’s leading at all, but he’s an honourable man and will see his commitment through to the bitter end. Flawed as he is with his addictions and failure to take better care of himself, at heart we see he has a strong moral code. It may not entirely agree with that of the general populace, but he plays by  his own rules which he has thought through. He’s intelligent, surprisingly empathetic and loyal. He’ll do whatever it takes to get this job done.    

Events take him from Thailand into the no-man’s land of between that country and Cambodia, namely Poipet, which has its own rules. Hugh has to track down The Chairman who is ruthless in the extreme. It’s going to take all his courage and determination to survive, and succeed.   

We experience the glory and the horror of Thailand. The writing is no-holds-barred, and stunningly beautiful imagery is found next to the shockingly jagged and brutal. We see our hero’s finest moments as well his lowest. We get a real sense of the desperation of so many lives, and yet sense the optimism and spirit of these same people. You can feel the humidity, the energy, the tension. Christopher Bardsley takes you by the throat with his writing and hangs on for dear life. The book is unputdownable, combining thriller, social commentary, politics, travelogue and self-discovery, and it stays with you long after you’ve finished it. It’s a haunting, challenging and powerful book.