Bernard Cornwell just keeps getting better and better as these books progress! This is now the 13th volume on Sharpe's timeline, and the 6th in order of publication. The character development continues to improve as new personae are introduced in each installment. An especially appealing new character is the one-eyed and mutilated rifle captain , "Sweet William", who joins Sharpe and Harper in this highly entertaining novel.
The time is late 1812 with Christmas approaching. A renegade army of British , Spanish , Portuguese , and French deserters have captured the "wife" of Colonel Sir Augustus Fotheringdale (what a name!), another of those rich and aristocratic and enormously egotistical bungling incompotents that seem to pop up regularly in these novels. Sharpe is selected to rescue the damsel in distress who is being held at an old castle and watchtower on the Northern border of Portugal , known as "the Gateway of God". He is provided by Wellington with two additional companies of riflemen and a batallion of Welsh Fusileers as reinforcements. Sharpe , now a Major , commands the rescue operation and manages to effect it with only minimal losses. The subsequent interference by Sir Augustus manages to result in the death of Colonel Kinney , the commander of the Fusileers , leaving Sharpe as the only experienced senior officer present. Also liberated is the wife of a French Colonel , who is returned promptly to her husband . The French seemingly have also mounted a rescue attempt , but only as a cover for an invasion of Portugal. Sharpe manages to uncover the scheme and settles in to thwart the French and brings them to battle , seeking to buy time for Wellington to respond.
There are many interesting twists and turns to the plot , in which Sharpe encounters his old mortal enemy , Obadiah Hakeswill , fights a battle , commands a batallion , and suffers a tragic loss.
This is one of the best Richard Sharpe novels ; not necessarily "the best" , but close enough. Five stars.