Flashman meets Tom Brown at a tavern and is convinced to play cricket at Lord's for a team made up of Old Rugbeians. His impressive play (performing possibly the first ever hat-trick) leads to more matches, and an encounter with Daedalus Tighe, a notorious bookie He also meets Don Solomon Haslam, a businessman from the East Indies, who has a lot of money, prestige, and a fascination for Elspeth, Flashman's wife.
Due to a wager with Haslam, blackmail from Tighe, and threats from a Duke arising from an affair with the Duke's mistress, Flashman is forced to accompany Haslam, Elspeth, and Morrison (his father-in-law) on a trip to Singapore.
Haslam kidnaps Elspeth and flees East; investigations reveal that 'Don Solomon Haslan', old Etonian and prosperous businessman in London and Singapore, is also 'Sulieman Usman', a well-known pirate prince based in Borneo. Flashman must reluctantly chase after them, with the help of James Brooke. This chase takes him to the jungles of Borneo, the nests of pirates, and finally to Madagascar, where he is enslaved and becomes military advisor and lover to Queen Ranavalona I.
Escape from the island seems impossible, and with his wife's help he has to overcome his cowardice to evade their pursuers.