This 1813-set entry in the Napoleonic War series finds Sharpe once again battling two of his most formidable foes: bureaucracy and the thoroughly evil Sgt. Hakeswill, the man responsible for his flogging in India a decade previously. The first of these battles is a foregone conclusion, as the Horse Guards finally reject Sharpe's battlefield commission to Captain, and he is reassigned away from his company as a Lieutenant. The depression this brings about is further exacerbated by the installation of Sgt. Hakeswill in Sharpe's old company. Early on, Sharpe has a chance to kill his legendarily unkillable enemy, but chooses not to and lets him go, saying that he prefers to do so in the sight of 1,000 men, so that everyone knows the deed is done. It's one of the unlikelier plot justifications of the series, made all the more annoying by the long-term implications of that decision. The story continues with Sharpe trying to figure out how to regain a Captaincy, while dealing with the schemes of Hakeswill. This is all set against the backdrop of the siege at the fortress of Badajoz. Cornwell excels at imparting the technical and murderous side of siege warfare at the time, while remaining entertaining. His descriptions of trench-digging, shelling, and futile charges against overwhelming firepower all eerily foreshadow the horrors of France and Belgium 100 years later. For Sharpe, the storming of the fortress is a test of his courage and pride, a point which Cornwell hammers home almost to the point of parody. To top it all off, Sharpe's lover, the guerilla leader Terressa, is holed up in Badajoz, and Sharpe must race to get to her before raping and looting soldiers do. The post-siege descriptions of wholesale rape are based on historical fact, and are not for the faint of heart (or young), so be warned. Another strong entry in the series.