The novel starts with a teenage boy called Rajkumar running through the city of Mandalay to find a woman called Ma Cho. He is the last surviving member of his family and comes to Burma from India with a bright entrepreneurial spirit and a hunger for success. Rajkumar's work as an assistant on Ma Cho's food stall takes place in the shadow of the Glass Palace, in which King Thibaw and his wife reside with their daughters, the princesses. As the British invasion comes to topple the incumbent regime, everyday citizens of Mandalay are able to enter the enshrined building, and it is then that Rajkumar spots Dolly, one of the princesses' attendants, and instantly falling in love with her. However, the entire Royal Family and their entourage are quickly extradited by the British and forced into house arrest thousands of miles away on the West coast of India.