After thwarting the plot against the Emperor in Court of a Thousand Suns, Sten has been reassigned and transferred to the Navy to attend flight school. Unfortunately, he and his troops were unable to reach the diplomatic rendezvous point in time to stop the slaughter of the Tahn delegation, so the Tahn have gone to a full war footing, and may attack the Empire at any time. Cole and Bunch merely hit the highlights of flight school and its filtering rituals, and then Sten gets sent to the Caltor worlds to assume command of a squadron of tacships based on the Imperial world of Cavite.
The authors also borrow liberally from the culture and tactics of the Imperial Japanese military in this novel. The Tahn launch a sneak attack on all of the imperial forces, with a strong focus on the forward areas such as Cavite, and in a scene very similar to Pearl Harbor, nearly the entire space force is wiped out while still on the ground, leaving Sten's command and just a few other ships. The Emperor sends the First Imperial Division to reinforce Cavite, under the command of Major General Ian Mahoney, Sten and Alex's old Mantis commander.
Sten's rather unconventional military background doesn't make him well liked by the Admiral in charge of the fleet, and he's forced to staff his ships from the rejects and dregs of the fleet, including the troublemakers in the brig, local criminal deserters, and some gung ho police offices from the city. His and Alex's adventures in training such a ragtag force make excellent reading, and his crew soon distinguish themselves after the Tahn attack as one of the few effective units in the war effort.
Lots of epic battles, plenty of wry humor, and the ever fresh antics of Sten and Alex make this a good read and set up the next several books in the series well.