March 1808, and war spreads in Europe as Napoleon holds Portugal and threatens his old ally, Spain. The Royal Navy’s blockade of enemy ports continues, and a new anti-slavery bill further stretches the hard-pressed fleet’s resources, as more ships are required elsewhere to suppress that profitable trade. Estranged from his wife and child, and plagued by the fear of blindness, Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Bolitho or ordered once more to the Cape of Good Hope to establish a permanent naval force there following the success of his previous mission. He leaves behind the contempt of society and the bitter memories of a friendship betrayed, and with the mistress he will not forsake takes passage on the ill-fated Golden Plover. With them are others eager to quit the land: Valentine Keen, for whom command at the Cape is both promotion and an escape from his own troubled marriage, the faithful Allday, and young Stephen Jenour, who finds in this dangerous voyage a passage to maturity. When shipwreck and disaster overtake Golden Plover, a hundred-mile reef off the coast of Africa becomes a powerful symbol of crisis and survival, claiming alike the innocent and the damned. Beyond the reef little remains, only raw courage and reckless hope, and the certainty that for those in peril and for those at home life has changed irrevocably.