It is the spring of 1802 when Richard Bolitho is summoned to the Admiralty in London and given his orders for a very difficult task. But even a promotion to Vice-Admiral does not compensate for this sudden and thankless mission. For his wife is expecting their first child, and he is loath to leave her.
The recent Peace of Amiens is already showing signs of strain as old enemies wrangle over colonies won and lost during the war. In the little 64-gun Achates, Bolitho sails west for the Caribbean, to hand over the island of San Felipe to the French.
There he discovers that diplomacy is not enough. And as threat and counter-threat weave a web of intrigue around his lonely command, he must balance personal success against the danger to the fighting men who follow him even into the cannon's mouth.