The Chevalier, the seventh book in the Morland Dynasty series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, is another exciting, fun read. Once again, Annunciata Morland is the central character, and I’m happy to say that I found her more likable in this book than I did in The Oak Apple. She’s still rather self-absorbed, but because her self-absorption leads her to concern herself with her family’s legacy and its place in the kingdom, her actions are for the good of the characters that I do care about. Plus, India Neville, who becomes the mistress of Morland Place, is an out-and-out villainess, and Annunciata looks like an angel in contrast. The soapy drama surrounding India is the focus of much of the first half of the book.
Even though difficult family relationships dominate the first half of the book, complications that arise from the current political situation in England are always in the background. Several Morlands leave England out of loyalty to James II, whom they consider the true king. I’ll confess I found it a little startling to see William of Orange consistently referred to as the Usurper. (What can I say? I’m a graduate of the College of William and Mary; I can’t help but feel some loyalty to William.) My own loyalties notwithstanding, I liked that Harrod-Eagles chose to tell the story from the perspective of the losing side. And she tells it in such a way that those who don’t know the history can actually feel some suspense about the outcome, especially because we know from past books that anything could happen to individual Morlands.
In the last half of the book, the historical account takes over, as the Morlands get caught up in the First Jacobite Rebellion; some as soldiers and some as civilians caught in the crossfire. When we read of historical battles, we often hear more about the movements of troops than about the civilians, including women and children, who were brought into the conflict. Previous books in the series did include some raids on homes, but in this book, we see more attacks on homes that lack the resources of Morland Place. We also see men who are merely trying to serve their king have to make the heart-wrenching decision of whether to continue a futile fight and risk leaving their families alone for good or whether to abandon their king and be branded a coward. In that day and age, what would be the worse decision? Harrod-Eagles does not make the answer obvious; she just allows us to share the struggle.