For Joe Milburn, Geordie to the core and son of a tenant farmer, war presents an intoxicating mix of terror, tragedy, bloodshed, adrenalin and opportunity.
As his wartime exploits earn him admiration and respect, he begins to mix in circles very different from those he grew up in — and to take part in military operations that go not only beyond his own previous experience, but beyond the expectations of the most practised of soldiers.
Gradually, he feels his north country past, and what he assumed would be his future, slipping away. War, it seems, when needs must, has as much to do with loss — of comrades, of identity, of social structures, of assumptions — as it has to do with strategy and politics.
When Joe finds himself in North Africa he discovers, among all the loss, love, in the flawless form of Nurse Alice Fleming. Yet as he makes plans for a safer future, one more challenge calls. What else can a man expect when he keeps company with the newly-born SAS?
And that is when Joe discovers that while service on the battlefield may end, the battlefield is just one of many theatres of war — and the war fought in the soul and mind may be the most painful battle of all.