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.
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.
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.