This is the first book in James L. Nelson’s series of nautical fiction set in the revolutionary war era. The key character is Captain Isaac Biddlecomb, an American smuggler. He is not a hero, but rather an ordinary American living in an extraordinary time. Biddlecomb’s sidekick is Ezra Rumstick, part-time patriot, part-time smuggler, full-time friend, and his nemesis is Captain James Wallace, the thoroughly professional commander of the HMS Rose.
Pursued by the H.M.S. Rose, he sacrificed the ship he loved to the depths, and the fortune he stood to gain, rather than surrender. As a consequence, he has to run and hide while he is waiting for a new ship.
Then, on a brig bound for Jamaica, serving as a lowly mate, he is captured by the British and pressed into service in the Royal Navy under the mad captain and sadistic crew of the H.M.S. Icarus.
By Force of Arms is a good and entertaining novel of action and adventure. It is not on par with Patrick O’Brian or C.S. Forester, but even so, Nelson spins a pretty good tale. This book is exciting at times but also has some flaws. The characters are somewhat one-dimensional, and their dominant trait is stubbornness. I only recommend this for fans of James L. Nelson and readers with a special interest in naval fiction set in the revolutionary era in America.