1828: Matthew Hervey of the Sixth Light Dragoons has been urgently recalled to South Africa. The stability of the Cape Colony has been threatened by Xhosa tribesmen who have been making incursions across the borders. When Hervey is told by his old friend, Sir Eyre Somervile, that the Zulu warrior king, Shaka, is about to make war on neighbouring tribes, he knows that matters are perilous indeed.
Things are looking up for Major Matthew Hervey: news of a handsome legacy should allow him to purchase command of his beloved regiment, the 6th Light Dragoons. He is resolved to marry, and, rather to his surprise, the object of his affections, the widow of the late Sir Ivo Lankester, has readily consented. But he hasn't reckoned with the opportunism of a fellow officer with ready cash in hand.
"a real British Officer"
In 1827 Captain Sir Laughton Peto, recently engaged to Matthew Hervey's sister, Elizabeth, has just taken command of HMS Prince Rupert. But his passage to the Ionian Sea, where Admiral Codrington is assembling an Anglo-Russian-French fleet to evict the Turks from Greek waters, will not be smooth sailing. First he must exercise his crew. He has also been entrusted with the safe passage to Malta of the Admiral's youngest daughter.
The prime minister is resisting growing calls for parliamentary reform, provoking scenes of violent unrest. Against this inflammable backdrop, Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Hervey, recently returned from an assignment in the Balkans, takes command of his regiment, the 6th Light Dragoons. His fears that things might be dull are quickly dispelled by the business of vexatious officers and difficult choices over which NCOs to promote, not to mention the incendiarists on the doorstep of the king himself.
January 1829: Cuts in the army mean that Matthew Hervey’s Dragoons are to be reduced to a single squadron. With his long-term plans in disarray, Hervey undertakes a six-month assignment as an observer with the Russian army. Soon Hervey and his faithful groom, Private Johnson, are sailing north to St Petersburg, and on to the Eastern Balkans, seat of the ferocious war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. For Hervey, the stakes have never been higher - or more personal.