It serves as a follow-up of sorts to From Russia with Love, as it features several characters from that story, as well as referencing that it took place several years beforehand. The book takes place in 1989.
Years after the events of From Russia with Love, a paramilitary terrorist group is holding an American ambassador's dinner party hostage while waiting for a prisoner exchange. However, as the SAS took longer and longer to get there, they prepare to begin killing their hostages. However, from within, James Bond is able to distract the terrorists long enough using weapons he had smuggled in under his kilt until the SAS operatives crash through the windows to finish the job. He then goes home with a lady from the party, and while reflecting on his past post-lovemaking, he receives a late-night call to the office. After arriving in his Aston Martin DB5, Moneypenny shows him into M's office, where he is chastised for his interference in the SAS operation before being briefed on his next assignment. In order to gain access to technology allowing for incredibly cheap space and satellite launches from its creator: Dr. Erik Widziadlo. Widziadlo's only demand was that the SAS smuggle his only living relative, a niece named Edáine Gayla out of Hungary. His contact in Czechoslovakia is to be a child of Kerim Bey, and Bond is then sent to Q Branch to see Major Boothroyd, who gives him some special x-ray shielded suitcases and a custom pistol known as the ASP. On arriving in Budapest, Bond meets up with a driver named Vavra, who takes him to his hotel, where he tells him to wait in the casino for further instructions. That night, a woman tells Bond to meet Vavra at a place called the Fisherman's Bastion, where Vavra takes out an assassin, who to Bond's surprise, was after the driver and not him, due to a famous assassin known as The Wolf, known for his silver-jacketed bullets had put a sizable price on his head. They then drive away toward a Gypsy camp where his final contact was said to be waiting. Vavra happened to be a gypsy, and advises Bond to act with caution, as his people did not take kindly to outsiders. Janos, the leader of the group welcomes Bond in, but his son Ostap is instantly demanding Bond leave. However, a gypsy dancer who turns out to be Bond's contact, gets him to back off because he fears her alleged powers. The chief agrees to help Bond get Gayla across the border to Austria in exchange for two suitcases of cash.
However, as he watches the dancer, the only daughter of Kerim Bey, Ostap slaps her, and when Bond defends her, he challenges him to a knife duel, which Bond quickly wins, but spares the boy's life, for which the chief is grateful. In the dancer's trailer, she dresses Bond's wounds and introduces herself as Luludi "Botanee". She reads his palm and they have sex before a military convoy, summoned by Ostap arrives. Botanee blasts one jeep apart with a bazooka, after the other was toppled by an unidentified sniper. The chief then is forced to kill his son for his betrayal, and the same mystery sniper then shoots Vavra.
In a public bazaar, Bond discreetly meets with a contact, who tells him that the mission has been canned as a result of heightened security along the iron curtain, but Bond has other plans, and demands the contact tell M to get him a device from Vienna's Station V. He is granted the request, and plans the attack with Botanee and Janos, trying to atone for his son's betrayal. On their way to intercept the military convoy en route to Gyor to torture Gayla, Botanee pierces Bond's ear as part of his Gypsy disguise before engaging in sexual contact again before meeting James' contact to pick up his equipment from Station V. The operation then begins with Bond taking out the convoy's radio car to prevent word of the attack from spreading before Botanee opens fire from a mounted turret gun borrowed from Vienna before Bond rescues a confused Gayla from a van and taking off in a small helicopter while an attack chopper arrives to fight the Gypsies. Botanee stays behind to try to fight them off as Bond maneuvers the helicopter through gunfire to try and escape through a train tunnel. However, the Czech forces station themselves at the other end of the tunnel, and Bond maneuvers out and up as a train smashes through the Czech helicopter. With their smaller vehicle out of fuel from a ruptured tank, the two are forced to continue on foot. Elsewhere, the Czech government hires the Wolf to assassinate James. Bond then poaches some birds' eggs for their dinner before settling Gayla in for the night and heading out to scout ahead and covertly plant explosives. That night, the Wolf catches up and begins to track Bond before setting up a perch. Bond returns to her in the morning with two horses for them to ride the final 100 kilometers to the border. However, as they approach, Bond explodes the electrified fence, but his horse is sniped by the Wolf. Bond however, detonates explosives planted in his perch, and the two successfully ride across the border, where they are met by representatives of the SAS, as Bond and Gayla kiss in the back of the jeep.
Felix Leiter then greets them on the ground in Idaho, where Widziadlo's personal aide Sula picks up Bond and Gayla to take them to Widziadlo's compound. Sula leads them into a massive underground palace, where Dr. Widziadlo comes down wearing a metal mask over half of his face. He shows Bond a prototype of his ram-tube missile launcher. Bond is then invited to stay on as Widziadlo's guest, and while swimming in the lake surrounding his cavern home, Bond noticed a flashing on a hillside and went to investigate. He takes a gun from a woman named Mary Chase, a hunting lodge owner convinced that Widziadlo may have had something to do with the loss of a client. Bond listens to her until Sula comes to collect him, and Chase retreated. Sula then shows Bond to a hidden candlelit cavern where they have sex as Widziadlo tearfully plays a pipe organ. They soon arrive at the Doctor's club, where Chase gets Bond away from Sula by spilling a drink on him. In the bathroom, she shows him some photos of suspicious activity, and Gayla kissing her alleged uncle. They then meet with Leiter in town, and they arrange for Bond to explore the lake in a submarine. On noticing suspicious supply lines, Bond jettisons from the sub, telling the driver to report back to Leiter. Bond then overhears Widziadlo discussing plans to launch a warhead, but he is tazed by Sula, and bound while Widziadlo reveals that Edáine was really his former student, who had volunteered to stay behind the iron curtain to feed him information. He discusses how he is working for peace by sabotaging nuclear devices, and inadvertently caused the Chernobyl disasters. He plans to bomb Victoria, British Columbia, where ships from many nations are docked in order to get more countries to realize the dangers of nuclear power and weapons. Sula prepares to shoot Bond before the operation commences, but she is killed by Mary Chase, who unties Bond before they start looking for ways to stop the launch. Gayla informs them that she has rigged the place to blow within seconds of the launch, which is unsuccessful. Bond and Chase then watch the island explode, and wonder if his scheme might have worked.