This story is written in three parts: Beijing, China 1421, Lisbon, Portugal 1496 and present day. Beijing is under the Ming dynasty. The forbidden city has just been completed and to celebrate the completion Admiral Zheng He is told to amass a fleet to map the world and bring back riches and glory for the emperor. Ma Zhi is a eunuch cartographer who wishes to join the armada and help his family's finances. He must go through rigorous testing but is finally chosen to accompany the Admiral. He creates a beautiful map of the world. Upon arrival home he finds that China is now not interested in exploration but is turning inward and becoming isolated. They are not the heroes they thought they would be.
Portugal has dominated the seas and navigation. The legendary Vasco da Gama sets off to discover a route to India. Navigator Antonio Coehlo guards da Gama's secret treasure, a map which shows the route. The pompous European goes forth and is not greeted quite as well as he would have wished for.
Present Day: Mara Coyne's new client is Richard Tobias. He wants her to find a map which has been stolen from a Chinese archaeological dig he is sponsoring. As Mara investigates she finds out the map is much more valuable than she thought. A map that if found can have all sorts of political ramifications. Did the Chinese really discover America? Did the Portuguese cheat? And how does Tobias fit in all this?
I very much enjoyed how the different voyages were portrayed. This is a historical mystery of the best kind. Lots of rich details for each period and lots of fast-paced action. The book begs the question of where valuable pieces of art really belong.
First Line: "The Mongolian steppes thunder as three hundred thousand horses charge across the plains."