|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback) and audio-CD|
|Preceded by||Sharpe's Ransom|
The last book, chronologically, in the Sharpe series is set in 1820, five years after the events of Sharpe's Waterloo. Richard Sharpe has retired to live on the farm in Normandy with his common-law wife Lucille Castineau. Patrick Harper has a bar in Dublin with Isabella and has put on a great deal of weight. The two are called out of retirement by the wife of an old friend who sends them on a mission to South America.
Doña Louisa Vivar, whom Sharpe befriended in Sharpe's Rifles, visits the farm and asks the former rifleman to sail to Chile in search of her husband, Don Blas Vivar, who has disappeared while serving as Captain-General of the rebellious colony and may have fallen victim to his political rival and successor, Miguel Bautista.
Sharpe and Harper are travelling to Chile with Spanish Colonel Ruiz and his regimental officers aboard the frigate Espiritu Santo commanded by Captain Ardiles. The group decide to stop off en route at St. Helena to pay a visit to exiled French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon grants an audience but quickly dismisses the Spaniards asking only Sharpe and Harper to remain. Napoleon then beguiles Sharpe into taking a gift to an admirer in Chile for him.
Part One: Bautista
British Consul George Blair welcomes Sharpe and Harper to the Chilean port of Valdivia and informs them that Don Blas's body was recovered and buried three months previously. Sharpe and Harper visit Bautista's adjunct, Captain Marquinez, to arrange passes and permits to travel to Puerto Crucero, exhume the body and return it to Spain. Back at their lodgings they interrupt burglars who wound Harper and escape with loot, including Napoleon's gift.
Sharpe and Harper have a meeting with Bautista, who announces that he has caught the thieves, whom he has branded on the spot, and returns all the stolen goods except for the gift from Napoleon. Marquinez provides the required passes and permits and rides out with Sharpe and Harper on the first stage of their journey. Overnighting at the "Celestial Fort" they are warned by the garrison commander, Captain Morillo, of a possible ambush by their escort, Sergeant Dregara, and given a local scout called Ferdinand to guide them safely across the hills.
Sharpe and Harper arrive in Puerto Crucero and are welcomed by Major Suarez until Sergeant Dregara catches up and has them arrested. After five days in prison Bautista arrives and accuses the riflemen of espionage. In evidence he reveals a coded message hidden in Napoleon's gift. As punishment the Captain-General has Ferdinand executed, confiscates the riflemen's money and weapons and has them deported back to Europe on board the Espiritu Santo.
Part Two: Cochrane
Lord Cochrane, a former Royal Navy officer now in service to the Chilean rebels under Bernardo O'Higgins, ambushes the Espiritu Santo and, with the assistance of Sharpe and Harper, capture it, taking Captain Ardiles prisoner. Cochrane rendezvous with his flagship the O'Higgins, patches up the rapidly sinking Espiritu Santo, loads Major Miller and his marines aboard the crippled ship, and sets sail for a suicidal attack upon the port of Puerto Crucero.
Cochrane and Miller lead the marines ashore, with Sharpe and Harper in tow, and with supporting fire from the O'Higgins capture the citadel from Major Suarez. With the citadel secure, Don Blas's grave is opened to reveal nothing but a dead dog inside. A captured Spanish soldier informs them that Don Blas is being held prisoner in Valdivia and Sharpe reluctantly agrees to join Cochrane's assault on the city.
Part Three: Vivar
Despite being massively outnumbered and outgunned, Cochrane's men limp into the harbour, disguised as a wounded Spanish ship, and Sharpe leads an assault on the outlying forts. The sheer audacity of their attack convinces the Spanish that a much larger rebel force is attacking, and the remaining resistance collapses with hardly any loss of life on the rebels' side. Without waiting for reinforcements, Cochrane marches his small forces into the city itself, where Sharpe and Harper kill Dregara. Bautista, seeing that all is lost, shuts himself up in the attic of his palace and commits suicide. Marquinez (Bautista's lover), is about to do the same, but Sharpe and Harper stop him.
Realising that Don Blas is not a prisoner in Valdivia, Sharpe confronts Cochrane, who admits that he has been holding Don Blas prisoner all the time. Cochrane is organizing a plot to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena, and plans to offer him a newly liberated Chile as his new base of operations. He duped Sharpe because he needed his help in liberating Valdivia and finding Napoleon's message.
Cochrane releases Don Blas, unhurt, but holds him, Sharpe, and Harper incommunicado until the rescue ship has set sail. When they are released, the three men return to St. Helena, but are stunned to hear that Napoleon is already dead. Sharpe, immensely relieved that Napoleon will never start another war, prepares to return home for good.
- Richard Sharpe; former British rifleman who has been called out of retirement on his farm in France to travel to Chile in search of an old friend.
- Patrick Harper; Irish former Regimental Sergeant Major in Sharpe’s regiment, who now operates a tavern in Dublin (and also acts as a fence for stolen horses). Though he is still as strong as ever, he has also become immensely fat ("a prize boar") as a result of drinking his own wares.
- Captain Ardiles; reclusive and sardonic Spanish captain of the frigate Espiritu Santo that takes Sharpe and Harper to Chile.
- Miguel Bautista; cruel and corrupt politician who succeeds Don Vivar as Captain-General of Chile.
- George Blair; surly Liverpool merchant acting as British Consul in the port of Valdivia who welcomes Sharpe and Harper to Chile.
- Lucille Castineau; French noblewoman and farmer, Sharpe's common-law wife and mother of his two young children, Patrick and Dominique.
- Ferdinand; local scout who leads Sharpe and Harper safely across the mountains and is executed as punishment by Bautista.
- Sergeant Dregara; Spanish soldier who does Baustista’s dirty work.
- Captain Marquinez; young and flashy adjunct to Captain-General Bautista who facilitates Sharpe's mission.
- Major Miller; British marine commander working for Cochrane.
- Captain Morillo; Spanish commander of the Celestial Fort who warns Sharpe of an ambush and is demoted to private and sent to the mines as punishment by Bautista.
- Major Suarez; Spanish commander of the Chilean port Puerto Crucero who arrests and imprisons Sharpe and Harper after their arrival.
- Lieutenant Otero; first officer of the frigate Espiritu Santo who tells Sharpe of the Scottish pirate Lord Cochrane.
- Colonel Ruiz; bombastic commander of a Spanish relief regiment that travels to Chile with Sharpe.
- Don Blas Vivar; brave and honest aristocratic Spanish military commander who befriended Sharpe in Sharpe's Rifles and has since gone missing while serving as Captain-General of Chile.
- Doña Louisa Vivar; wife of Don Vivar who Sharpe had first known as Miss Parker in Sharpe’s Rifles and who sends him to Chile in search of her missing husband.
- Napoleon Bonaparte; French emperor exiled to St. Helena who dupes Sharpe into running an errand for him.
- Lord Cochrane; Scottish ex-naval officer who now serves the Chilean revolutionaries.