As a child, Rosetta is fascinated by words and loves being told stories. She thinks she is named after the Princess Rosetta of the fairytales, who married the King of the Peacocks and lived happily ever after. But when she finds that it is a mysterious small port town in Egypt that gave her her name, her interest in hieroglyphics is born. Years later, when Rose is an older, wiser and sadder woman, it is her love of language that saves her life. The French Revolution; the rise of the power of the English church; the battles for Egypt between the British and the French; the discovery of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone in that same small port town - and above all the machinations of a rich, amoral, social-climbing member of the 'new' aristocracy and the extraordinary characters that surround him - all whirlpool together to carry Rose into France and a shared moment with Napoleon Bonaparte, and into the dark, unknown world of North Africa in her search to understand the meaning of words, and to find a child of her own.