The Years of Rice and Salt begins with a group of Mongol warriors working for the great Temur, whose path to domination is currently focused on conquering the Magyar people. Unfortunately for Temur, the Magyars have been completely wiped out by the ‘black death,’ leaving no one to conquer. Bold, the central character returns to tell Temur the bad news when a storm rolls in and kills Temur. Bold escapes and wanders through the isolation of this desolate land. He makes it to the ocean where he is met by slave traders who seize him and throw him aboard their ship, bound for Alexandria. There he sold to a man who turns him for a profit to the Chinese. Bold finds himself aboard the impressive fleet of Admiral Zheng He. Enslaved by this dominant power, Bold travels along the coast of Africa, exposed to cities of a size Bold never knew existed. During a display of power and dominance by the Chinese Admiral, a young boy name Kyu is castrated in front of the other slaves. Bold takes this boy under his wing and is henceforth linked with him. When the two reach China they are again sold, this time to a restaurant owner. The enslavement is cushier than the previous, never leaving the two wanting for food or drink. While Bold is content with this existence, Kyu is still traumatized by his experience upon the boat. He takes his revenge out on the restaurant owner by setting fire to his establishment. Kyu plotted this escape with Bold as a central character to aid in his cover as his master. They travel to Beijing, the new capital and begin a new slave position under the Emperor and his family. The two have lived there for years when the Emperor dies and is succeeded by his son. Kyu speaks out against the new Emperor and is subsequently killed. Bold is murdered as well because of his proximity to the rebel. The book ends in a bardo, a kind of purgatory. In this ‘space between spaces,’ Bold and Kyu meet before they are to be reincarnated.
Robinson uses the device of a thought...
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