Seventh volume in the Richard Sharpe Napoleonic Wars saga, about a former enlisted man who won a battlefield commission at the battle of Talavera in 1809, has spent six volumes fighting the Peninsular campaign in Spain and Portugal and has at last, under Wellington, invaded France in mid-1813. Sharpe is now a major, but attrition has reduced his famed South Essex regiment to half. strength, and no replacements are being sent to the regiment's Spanish bivouac. What's worse, news is that his South Essex regiment soon will be disbanded and his battle-seasoned troops drawn off into other regiments. This is too much for Sharpe to bear, especially since his regiment was distinguished for capturing the first eagle insigne from a French flag in the war against Napoleon. Accompanied by his faithful Irish giant Sergeant Harper, Sharpe sails to England to find out for himself the best way to snatch his regiment from the jaws of bureaucracy. A companion regiment stationed in England, from which he had hoped to draw troops, suddenly doesn't exist--except on paper. Everywhere that Sharpe hunts for it proves a blind alley. Somebody is carrying on a tremendous cover up and milking the War Office for gold to support a literally invisible regiment. To find out where this hidden pool of troops might be, Sharpe and Harper strip themselves of their uniforms and pass themselves off as old soldiers ready to reenlist in the missing regiment. A recruiting sergeant, in a dreadfully oppressive scene, indeed signs them up along with other recruits and ships them off to boot camp, This turns out to be a hidden mudhole on Foulness island, where Sharpe and Harper go through weeks of brutal training as recruits. Eventually, they escape from the island and pursue the trail of graft into the highest levels of the court before returning to their regiment with the needed troops and gearing up for the invasion of France. Livelier than usual, in fact quite original in that Sharpe gives up his command and finds himself in the foulest, pest-ridden depths of army life.