After suffering the destruction of his command while protecting the evacuation of civilians from Cavite after the defeat of Imperial forces there, Sten is taken prisoner by the Tahn. Luckily, his sidekick, Alex Kilgour, ends up in the same prison camp. With their Mantis skills, they have no problem escaping from each prison they are sent to, until they are sent to the repository for hardcase prisoners, located in the ruins of Koldyze Cathedral on the capital world of the Tahn, Heath.
Lt. Colonel Virunga, the ranking officer among the Imperial prisoners, appoints Sten as Big X, the person in charge of all escape attempts, which eliminates him from being allowed to participate, unless all the other prisoners are gone. So Sten and Alex work their usual mischief, setting up multiple plots, and generally being a pain in the rear to the Tahn guards, sabotaging the war effort however they can, and trying to avoid being caught.
In the meantime, back at Castle Arundel, the Emperor is just getting things warmed up for the Tahn. There's a serious parallel here to WWII's battle in the Pacific, after Japanese forces made the mistake of waking up a sleeping giant. The Empire is slow to build up their forces, mostly because of the scale of their industries' inertia, but once things get moving, they can produce more warships and supplies, and recruit more troops, than ever the Tahn can match. Ian Mahoney, still recovering from grievous wounds he received in the fall of Cavite, is put in charge of the forces that will take back the Empire's worlds.
There's a side plot going on here about the ongoing plot against the Emperor by members of his privy council. Now that they've been given great wealth and status for their help with the war effort, they're afraid that the policies he wants to pursue when the war is over will reduce their influence. A few interesting lessons on war economics and the military-industrial complex tucked away in this, without being at all preachy.
We get to see, once more, a couple of the ongoing shticks in this series. The Emperor likes to cook, especially long-lost recipes from pre-space Earth, and in this episode he creates a dish called "nuked hen". The analogy to what the Emperor plans to do to the Tahn is pretty good. Also, we get to finally hear Alex's shaggy dog story of the spotted snakes - pretty bad.
A fun book, with just a hint of Hogan's Heroes and The Great Escape, for seasoning.