In the late summer of 1918 the war on the western front is grinding out its final months. The German army’s offensive has stalled; the Austro-Hungarian empire is on its knees; the Russian monarchy has fallen. The new Bolshevik government of Russia, beleaguered on all sides, has signed a separate peace with the Central Powers. In the south, White Russian forces have begun a rebellion and the allies have landed at Archangel. A force of Czechs and Slovaks have seized the Trans-Siberian Railway. Into this maelstrom, Paul Ross, a young army captain, is sent by the head of the fledgling SIS, Mansfield Cumming, to assist in organising the anti-Bolshevik front. Regarded as ideal for the job by virtue of his Russian birth, Ross must first find his cousin, Mikhail Rostov, who has connections with the old regime, and then make contact with the Czechoslovak Legion. But Ross is carrying more than the letter of accreditation to the Czechs, he is also burdened by his past. Disowned as a boy by his Russian family and despised by Mikhail, Paul doubts himself capable of the task. With his mission already betrayed to the Bolsheviks and pursued by assassins, he boards a steamer to cross the North Sea into German-occupied Finland. From there he must make his way over the border into Bolshevik Russia. But in Petrograd, Paul finds Mikhail has disappeared, having left behind his half-starved sister, Sofya. Now, with Sofya in tow, he must somehow contact the Czech Legion, strung out as they are across a vast land in growing turmoil where life, as he soon discovers, is held to be even cheaper than on the western front.