This tale begins with Jack Aubrey arriving home from his exploits in the Mediterranean to find England at peace following the treaty of Amiens. He and his friend Stephen Maturin, surgeon and secret agent, begin to live the lives of country gentlemen, hunting, entertaining and enjoying more amorous adventures.
Their comfortable existence, however, is cut short when Jack is overnight reduced to a pauper with enough debts to keep him in prison for life. He flees to the continent to seek refuge: instead he finds himself a hunted fugitive as Napoleon has ordered the internment of all Englishmen in France. Aubrey's adventures in escaping from France and the debtors' prison will grip the reader as fast as his unequalled actions at sea.