In September 1838 a storm blows up on the Indian Ocean and the Ibis, a ship carrying a consignment of convicts and indentured laborers from Calcutta to Mauritius, is caught up in the whirlwind. On the grand scale of an historical epic, River of Smoke follows its storm-tossed characters to the crowded harbours of China. There, despite efforts to stop them, ships from Europe and India exchange their cargoes of opium for boxes of tea, silk, porcelain and silver. Among them are opium merchant Bahram Modi, his estranged half-Chinese son Ah Fatt, the orphaned Paulette and a motley collection of others. All struggle to cope with their losses - and for some, unimaginable freedoms – in 19th century Canton.