While the aristocracy clink their glasses in their towering refuge, the stuff of nightmares roams the crumbling cityscape. The only people who brave the streets are the very wicked, the very stupid, or those, like Adelaide, with something to hide. She is cornered and desperate when a stranger appears as if by magic and helps her to the safety of her rooftop village. The stranger has no memory of who he is or how he got to Excelsior, but somehow knows her name, as well as her secret, at only a glance. When Buddy accidentally blurts out the fact that she is a girl who has been living as a boy to Adelaide’s best friend Jeremy (who also happens to be the love of her life), she fears he will never forgive her. Her life gets even more complicated when she finds out that she and Buddy have more in common than she could have imagined.
Too bad for Adelaide the refined and beautiful Olivia already has her eye on Jeremy. Her aristocratic pedigree has granted her everything her heart desires—except the freedom to choose her own fate. When she pushes against her guardian’s wishes, he threatens her with a marriage to someone she hates as a desperate attempt to keep her close to him in his old age. Olivia is forced to leave behind everything she’s ever known and her chance to go to university, and she thinks that the Jeremy could be the key to her unlocking her gilded cage. Instead, she finds an inner strength she’d never dreamed she had, and a strange new attraction to the most unlikely of people.
The mysterious stranger who comes to Adelaide’s aid is a Traveler from “the other side,” or what readers would simply call “home.” Passage between our worlds was banned in the city ever since the tragic events of decades past, and Travelers like Buddy have a way of disappearing when they are found out despite the aristocracy’s illegal mania for Artifacts from our world. Like anyone who passes through a rift, Buddy has been changed from one form to another, but is among the lucky few who develop semi-magical abilities as a result of the change. As he learns about this new world and what it means to be human, Adelaide recognizes the side effects of ‘the change’ in herself, and discovers that she also came from the other side as a child. Jeremy has made his loathing for Travelers abundantly clear, so even as he seems to forgive her for her early deception, she finds another roadblock in her path to love and acceptance.
Buddy struggles reconcile to the experiences and memories of his former dog self with his new man-shape in order to find a way home… at least that is the plan before his boy, Cameron, follows him through the portal and falls into the hands of the true monsters, those who control the nightmare creatures that haunt the city.
But just how monstrous are the people who drive the chimeras? The Chosen are a colony of Travelers who have been living in secret in the forest beyond the city walls. They know they aren’t welcome and have no other way to survive than the steal from the hardworking people of Excelsior. Their ranks of the newly transformed are growing at an alarming rate, and Sergeant Xaloc is having trouble deciding whose side he’s on. The Commander has never steered them wrong in the past, but Xaloc can’t shake his doubts about the path he is taking them down now. The Chosen follow their leader with religious fervor and have never known anything of this new world beyond their indoctrination. Xaloc knows there are powers within the city of Excelsior who are aiding them, but to find out what is really happening he has to go deep into the Commander’s confidence and risk his wrath. The best lies are always based on truth, and Xaloc must decide which truth he wants to believe.
While Xaloc agonizes over his role in life, Jeremy jokes to cover his pain, and Olivia flees from her path of a forced marriage, it’s up to Buddy and Adelaide to rescue Cameron, cut through the conspiracy that plagues the city, and free the people of Excelsior from their mysterious oppressor in a world powered by steam and secrets.