In 1932 Alice Whelan, fleeing a faithless husband in England and passing herself off as a widow, arrives with her baby in Simla, India, where her brother Ralph is private secretary to the Viceroy. On the train she meets the missionary Dougie Raworth and his waspish wife Sarah with their young son. A little boy is lifeless on the railway track, poisoned for being a half caste, and Dougie and his assistant Leena save him, calling him Adam. Another new arrival is young Scot Ian McLeod, come to stay with his uncle Stafford Armitage, a drunken tea plantation owner, and Sarah sets her sights on him. Ambitious local boy Aafrin Delal works for Ralph, to the disgust of his sister Sooni, a nationalist who supports Gandhi and daubs anti-British slogans on the Viceroy's wall. Alice attends the first evening of the season at the Empire club run by the influential military widow Cynthia Coffin. Cynthia arranges for Ralph to have sex with wealthy American Madeleine Mathers and afterwards tells him that he should marry Madeleine to improve his chances of being selected as the next Viceroy. An assassin later fires at Ralph but Aafrin steps in and takes the bullet and Alice insists on breaking protocol by accompanying him to hospital.