Some nine books into his Napoleonic series, Cornwell pauses here to return to the beginning of Sharpe's association with the 95th Rifles. In 1809 French forces were sweeping the British out of the Spain in a full retreat to Portugal. Sharpe is a Lieutenant, and a lowly quartermaster at that, but through a series of mishaps and skirmishes, he finds himself in command of the tattered remnants of a Rifle Company cut off from the main British army. These men, led by the indominitable Irishman Harper, are demoralized, distrustful of Sharpe, and waver on mutinousness. We see his first clumsy attempts at leading men, as he tries to get them to safety. Their momentary alliance with a Spanish Major who is escorting a mysterious strongbox only leads to more trouble as the combined forces are dogged by a unit of French Cavalry intent on capturing the box. Of course, over time, the contents of the box are revealed and a thrilling city battle is fought. We also see Sharpe's first awkward falling in love, with the niece of some British missionaries (who provide some of the most comic moments in the entire series). It's a good prequel to Sharpe's adventures in the Peninsular Wars, and while it makes a logical place for newcomers to start the series, it might actually be more fun for those who have already gotten to know Sharpe and Harper.