By Force of Circumstance (Chosen Man Trilogy)

Written by J.G. Harlond
Review by Fiona Alison

In 1644, after two years of Civil War, the exiled Queen Henrietta Maria plans to pawn the English Crown Jewels to aid the Royalist cause. Spice merchant Ludo Da Portovenere sails for Plymouth, his children’s lives under threat were he not to cooperate in obtaining said jewels. He picks up his trading partner, Marco, and the recently widowed, sometime lover, Lady Alina and continues on to France. Ludo, a likeable rascal, has an edge of wit in even the most serious of situations. There seems no tangled web he can’t talk his way out of. But not many of the characters here mean what they say or are what they purport to be. Ludo negotiates for the jewels with the Queen’s chamberlain, intending to sell them on to the Duchess of Braganza―profit minus commission to be returned to Henrietta. Trailed by his nemesis from the previous book, an evil Vatican agent, there are mishaps and nefarious goings-on along the way, and everyone―well mostly―either gets their comeuppance or lives happily ever after.

I enjoyed this easy-to-read story, but it’s hard to categorise because, at times, it seemed too tongue-in-cheek. I didn’t have a solid sense of time and place, and the dialogue is a bit too slick to take it all seriously: and perhaps that’s the author’s intention. I wish I had read The Chosen Man first, as a more defined sense of Ludo may have become apparent. Part 3 begins in autumn, 1645 when it’s still autumn, 1644, and with numerous editorial mistakes the book could have done with another once-over. That said, the author clearly knows her way around the provenance of the Crown Jewels and who they really belong to!