Book 1: The Conductor
Rule #1 in the Underground Railroad: If someone doesn’t need to know something, you don’t tell them.
Philadelphia, 1835. The journey begins. Eleven-year-old Rian Krieger has been kicked out of her third school for fighting. Desperate, Rian’s father Otto shifts her education to his carriage factory. Rian’s new life is perfect for two reasons: she doesn’t have to wear a dress and the jobs in the shop fascinate her. This confounds Otto, for he dreams that Rian will one day become a wife and helpmate to a powerful husband and they will rule Philadelphia society.
The City of Brotherly Love is a roiling stew of rivalry, prejudice, and change; German artisans, Irish immigrants, the largest population of free Blacks in America. Steam engines choosh throughout the city. Workers dig ditches for new gas street lights. The fledgling railroad industry hints that change will soon come even faster. Rian is swept into this racial and economic turmoil by three charismatic mentors. Foreman Jules Freeman, one of the few Black men in Philadelphia placed in charge of whites, introduces Rian to the secretive Underground Railroad. Rian’s Irish cousin Seamus strives to prove himself amidst the hostility of Otto’s German workers and launches a new fire brigade with a controversial mission. Next-door neighbor Lucretia Mott finds her voice as a stirring abolitionist.
Rian befriends Olivia Tucker, the daughter of slave owners from Charleston who summer in Philadelphia. Together, they plot to free Olivia’s mammy from enslavement. Secrets pile up. Rian finds that she must apply Rule #1 to many parts of her life.
Book 2: The Coachman
Philadelphia, 1837. On six occasions, twelve-year-old tomboy Rian Krieger has escorted self-emancipated fugitives to the next station on their flight from enslavement. When Rian’s father, factory owner Otto Krieger, learns that she is a conductor on the Underground Railroad, he renews his plans to send her to a finishing school in Switzerland. This is a fate Rian cannot abide, as it means she would have to wear a dress all the time.
The Workshop of the World. Philadelphia bustles with commerce. The siren song of increased prosperity prompts Otto to make bold decisions. Then, the Panic of 1837 descends, strangling businesses and straining the social and economic fabric of the city. Otto’s factory and home are at risk of foreclosure.
Otto’s problems are potentially resolved when two visitors from Tsarist Russia enter his factory. Rian must decide: Can the Russians’ mission help her solve her Switzerland dilemma as well?