This novel starts in traditional HNF style with Lieutenant Peter Thornton and his friend Lieutenant Roger Perry attending the Admiralty and recieving orders for the Frigate Ajax. However from that point onwards the narrative is very fresh. Firstly the captain of the Ajax is rather inept and not the usual ‘Mr Nice Guy’. He takes a dislike to Thornton and finds every opportunity to berate him. When they encounter a sinking Spanish Galley in need of assistance the Ajax saves the Spanish crew but Thornton and two crew members are left behind with the slaves. His lack of familiarity with this type of vessel soon leads to one of the slaves, a corsair, taking command.
The rest of the narrative explores the relationship between these two whilst giving us a strong insight into the world of galleys, lateen rigged vessels and the world from the corsair point of view. Thornton ‘takes the turban’ and helps in the formation of a Sallee navy.