Our Hart follows on from Lloyd Lofthouse’s hugely successful and award winning first book My Splendid Concubine.

Historical Fiction is a tough nut to crack, it is so easy to fall into the trap of modifying the facts to meet the fiction. This always causes problems because many readers of this genre are history buffs and can spot the gaffs. Lloyd is way too smart to fall into that abyss, he is a master of his craft and that fact shines brightly in Our Hart.

In book two we once again meet up with Robert Hart and follow his progress working in China for the Chinese Government, his knowledge of the language is surpassed only by his knowledge of the local customs and mores. Chinese society is far different from the western world. Even the simplest task must be approached with care and forethought, to inadvertently insult or cause someone to lose face is an unforgivable sin.

Robert Hart gradually gains the trust of his Chinese hosts and rises in stature to become the Inspector General of Chinese Maritime Customs. In essence he becomes the king of taxes for international trade. In many historical texts Robert Hart is unofficially recognized as the godfather of China’s modernization, and his tentacles were far reaching, an amazing feat for a ‘foreign devil’!

So well accepted was Robert Hart that he did indeed acquire the nickname of ‘Out Hart’, this nickname was used by everyone from the Emperor down. Quite a feat for a man born in Ireland, and moved to China in 1854 in a very lowly governmental position.

Our Hart  is a book that runs two parallel stories, firstly the factual world of Robert Hart, and clearly Lloyd Lofthouse has very carefully researched this aspect. The second story line concerns Hart’s private life, particularly his relationship with his concubine Ayaou. Ayaou is far more important to Robert Hart than a mere paid for plaything, a second wife. She is his source of much information, specifically in understanding the Chinese culture.

I don’t think it would be appropriate to really discuss this plot line, that is something that the reader needs to discover for themselves. In broad terms though I will say this, Lloyd Lofthouse intertwines the two threads so seamlessly that it is impossible to delineate the fact from the fiction. For Robert Hart to have assimilated so well into the Chinese lifestyle it is almost certain that he did have a concubine, it would be almost impossible for him not to because of his position of power. Now if that concubine did in fact contribute to his success is something that a historian of greater knowledge than I must determine.

As Historical Fiction books go, this is without doubt one of the best I have read in 2009, and my guess is that it is going to surpass the success that the author had with My Splendid Concubine.

If you know someone that loves a great historical novel, this is the one to buy for the. Our Hart is available from Amazon, and can be ordered by simply clicking on the cover art above.

Simon Barrett

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