Sharpe, just promoted to an officer, faces his toughest battle.
It is 1803 and Sir Arthur Wellesley's army is closing on the retreating Mahrattas in western India. Marching with the British is Ensign Richard Sharpe, newly made into an officer and wishing he had stayed a sergeant. Spurned by his new regiment, he is sent to the army's baggage train and there finds corruption, romance, treason and enemies old and new. Sergeant Hakeswill wants Sharpe dead, and Hakeswill has powerful friends while Sharpe has only an orphaned Arab boy as his ally.
And waiting with the cornered Mahrattas is another enemy, the renegade Englishman, William Dodd, who does not envisage defeat, but only a glorious triumph. For the Mahrattas have taken refuge in Gawilghur, the greatest stronghold of India, perched high on its cliffs above the Deccan Plain. Who rules in Gawilghur, it is said, rules India, and Dodd knows that the fortress is impregnable. There, behind its double walls, in the towering twin forts, Sharpe must face his enemies in what will prove to be Wellesley's last battle on Indian soil.