This is the chronological Book 18 (and original Book 9) of the Richard Sharpe series.
Throughout this series, Cornwell has either placed Sharpe in the middle of a real historical battle, or he has subjected his hero to devilish battles of his own creation that are loosely tied to historical truth. This book describes, in all of its bitter, bloody, and ragged detail, one such imaginary encounter.
This book, perhaps more than any other, places Sharpe in one of the most grim and hopeless situations that he has ever faced. We see, perhaps for the first time, a Sharpe who is truly despondent, desperate, and indecisive, but the gravity of his situation does allow the reader to offer him easy forgiveness for those rare moments of despair. We are introduced to friends and foes, both old and new, and to all kinds of alliances both made and broken.
This is a tense, hopeless, and stressful book. The knowledge that at least two more books existed in this series assured me that this was not, indeed, the inglorious end to our seemingly immortal hero, but it was a hard to imagine how Cornwell was going to pull this one off. By the end, Sharpe was utterly exhausted and, frankly, so was I.