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Written by a Descendant of Lord Nelson - an Editorial Review of "Horatia's Secret"



Book Blurb:


On the verge of nervous breakdown, a respectable Victorian grandmother turns to an old friend, but ongoing visions make her face her deepest fear.


She is the illegitimate daughter of British hero, Admiral Lord Nelson. She was raised by Nelson's mistress, Lady Hamilton, whom society views as evil.


Her mind keeps slipping into immersive memories. She's terrified of being committed to a lunatic asylum, not for herself, but because the stigma would destroy her sons' and grandsons' prospects.


After accepting an old friend’s invitation to spend Christmas by the sea, Horatia realises she is powerless to block the past from her mind.


Written by the real life Horatia’s 3rd great-granddaughter, Horatia's Secret is a compelling historical novel driven by emotion, strong female characters, rich period detail, engaging dialogue, warm humour and family stories not previously recorded in histories of Nelson and Emma Hamilton.



Author Bio:



Lily Style is the direct descendant of famed lovers Admiral Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton. A keen genealogist, her interest is in piecing together the real human stories lying behind dry facts. She writes regularly for Nelson-related publications. Horatia's Secret is her first historical novel.


Editorial Review:


Horatia’s Secret by Lily Style is the story of Horatia Nelson and her extended family. There is a

list of characters and two family trees provided before the story starts, which helps to identify

who is who throughout the book. The author is a descendent of Horatia Nelson, as stated in the

Afterword.


Horatia’s Secret is fiction woven from facts scavenged from archives, old texts, and my

mother’s recollections of what her great-aunts, Evie and Ada, told her during her childhood

holidays in Lutton House. Tori and William were my second great-grandparents via ‘Baby Alice’, who died young from congenital heart disease.”


The story opens to a flashback from Horatia’s youth, and throughout the novel these flashbacks serve to provide insight into her past and how it affects her present day life and her relationships with her family. They are an interesting element, but can be just a bit confusing as the story is taking shape.

Horatia is the daughter of Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, who was a hero of the Battle of

Trafalgar. His death is celebrated every year on Trafalgar Day, which Horatia avoids

celebrating for obvious reasons.


“‘It was no token loss for me. I admire Lord Nelson’s courage. I am humbled by his sacrifice,

and truly appreciative of the freedom his victory bestowed upon us all as a people; but he was

my father, and his death tore my whole life apart.’”


In Horatia’s Secret, her sons and their families celebrate Trafalgar Day proudly, while Horatia

and her friends create a celebration called Other Days where they reminisce about their pasts.


In addition to Horatia, we learn the histories of her friends Henrietta Blanckley and Susan

Matcham, and their families as well. Honestly, it is a bit confusing keeping track of who is who throughout the story. The lists and family trees help, but I find it a bit disruptive to the flow of the narrative to keep having to circle back to the beginning to make sure of a familial relationship. I also find that because so much of the story focuses on these other characters, it is not solely Horatia’s story as the title leads one to believe.


Henrietta invites Horatia and Susan to spend the Christmas holiday at her home. She also pays for a hotel in her town for Horatia’s daughter-in-law Tori Ward and her six children, her brother Horace, and her cousin Lizzie. Tori ends up leaving the children with Horace - and her ayah, Kajri, who accompanied the Ward family home from India - to revisit her childhood home and address her grief over the death of her mother. This is one example of the story not focusing entirely on Horatia, as there is a large portion devoted to explaining Tori’s family history. It does indirectly relate however because seeing Tori deal with her grief helps Horatia to accept and process her own trauma.


The story does have a few loose ends, and unfortunately with all of the historical facts and

remembrances thrown in, it does not read smoothly as a novel. It is more like a compilation of

family memories than a cohesive work of fiction. There is no clear plot or beginning-middle-

end, and no clear resolution. On the plus side, Horatia does end up revealing her ‘secret’ and

acknowledging Lady Hamilton as her mother.


Everyone, even Baby Alice, stared at Grandmama Horatia curiously as if her silence was a

theatre curtain ready to rise. Grandmama Horatia did not, however, rise. She remained stoically still in her black widow’s reeds. If a pin had dropped, the sound of it hitting the floor would have been audible to all. Uncle Horace, when he spoke, sounded very loud indeed. ‘Will you at least assure me you’ll refuse your son’s demand?’

Horatia turned her head, very slowly, to meet Uncle Horace’s ginger browed eyes. ‘I shall tell

him that glory without integrity is a palace built on mud.’

His ginger eyebrows scrunched with his frown. ‘Huh, what? I don’t understand.'

In other words, Nephew, I shall tell Nelson “no”.’”


The above excerpt is Horatia’s response to her son’s request that she denounce Lady Hamilton

as her mother so that his son may attend Eton School. The book ends with Horatia walking her grandson into Harrow School, so we can surmise that she was true to her word and refused to lie to the Eton governor about her lineage. This is a satisfying conclusion to her part of the story.

There are many side stories included in the novel that are resolved more thoroughly in the

afterword than in the book itself. For example, there is a man named Frances Cook who shows up throughout the story and is tasked with tricking Henrietta’s heiress into marriage:


“‘Just remember that all women can be mastered by men because God put them on Earth for

that sole purpose. All you have to do is remember that you are her master and her knees will go weak! Raise your eyebrows to show your disbelief if she dares to refuse you. Tell her that you forgive her womanly foolishness, then offer her a second chance, this time naming the date and time of your next meeting (which will be here in my house, where I shall approve her). Present her with your dead mother’s ring,’ the stocky man flinched, but his father was oblivious, ‘and that’s that. She’ll find herself engaged to you, so unable to escape. The trick is to allow her no time for independent choice or thought. Heed my instructions, Boy, and you’ll be married within months of her senile aunt’s death.’

Which could be years from now, Father.’

The old man cackled. ‘We know otherwise though, don’t we? That crone aunt of hers will be

dead within a year, haha! The fortune the wench will inherit will be ours by the spring after

next.’”


Lizzie meets this man during the pantomime that Uncle Horace brings her, Henrietta, and Tori’s older children to, but there is nothing else said about him or their meeting, or any developing relationship between the two. The afterword, however, states that they are married shortly after Henrietta’s death, and also that Lizzie is the main beneficiary of her will.

Overall I think that Horatia’s Secret is an interesting family history with fascinating and informative historical aspects, but would be satisfyingly well-rounded if it focused more on Horatia, and if it had a more defined plot as well as story arc.


*****


“Horatia's Secret” by Lily Style receives 3.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


Posted with permission from the author.



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