Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father has been dead for years. Her brothers have been conscripted into the Tsar's army and taken as servants in the house of the local wealthy landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying untold wealth, a cornucopia of food, and a noble family destined to visit the Tsar in St. Petersburg - a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena's age. When the two girls' lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an adventure that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and - in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured - Baba Yaga, the witch of Russian folklore, in her moving house perched on chicken legs.
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