The Conductor

Roger A. Smith


Rian Krieger's Journey - Book 1 Rule #1 of the Underground Railroad: If someone doesn’t need to know something, don’t tell them. Philadelphia, 1835. The journey begins. Kicked out of her...

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Rian Krieger's Journey - Book 1

Rule #1 of the Underground Railroad: If someone doesn’t need to know something, don’t tell them.

Philadelphia, 1835. The journey begins.

Kicked out of her third school for fighting, 11-year-old tomboy Rian Krieger gets an unanticipated education in her father’s factories. The City of Brotherly Love is a roiling stew of rivalry, prejudice, and change that pits German artisans, Irish immigrants, and the largest population of free Blacks in America against one another.

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 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.


I flew through it! There was so much to enjoy.... overall, you wrote with precision and made the place and time come alive. The city teemed with the technology and politics and rivalries of the day; your descriptions were deft and created verisimilitude without slowing the narrative down. I love Rian's arc and how much of a fighter she is. I also loved her "awakening" (if that's the right word) and increasing awareness of how the world works. That felt quite true to any time. I particularly liked the pacing of the book; you keep things moving and you use dialogue really well.

Excellent and enjoyable!

—Alex Myers - Author of the novels Revolutionary, Continental Divide, and The Story of Silence

How did members of the LGBTQ community navigate the historical world of the 1800s? The answers come alive in the fascinating journey of Rian Krieger, looking for freedom for herself and others amidst slave catchers, devils, idiots, Quakers, railroad visionaries, vigilantes, and ordinary heroes in pre-Civil War Philadelphia. Vivid dialogue, compelling and unexpected characters, and a sharp eye for historical accuracy bring to life the inner and outer worlds inherent to the fight to end slavery, the battle to establish equal rights for all people, and the timelessness of heartbreak — all from two centuries ago.

—Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of Mommy Wars, The Baby Chase, The Naked Truth, and the New York Times best-selling memoir, Crazy Love

Good storyline. Wonderful characters. The scenes identified by the names of the characters is a technique used by one of my favorite authors: William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury. An amazing novel.

—Philip Horn, former Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

by Roger A, Smith
Page Count: 334
Trim Size: 6 X 9
Publish Date: July 8, 2022
Imprint: Milford House Press
Genre: Historical

FICTION / Historical / Civil War Era
FICTION / African American & Black / Historical

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Customer Reviews

Based on 7 reviews
Keep Thinking About It

I really enjoyed this book and the characters. I finished it a few months ago and keep thinking about it. I find myself wondering what Rian would think about events or certain news items. I learned new things about history when reading this book and think about how current events will be interpreted in the future. Often books that are as fun and enjoyable to read are somewhat forgettable once I finish them - not this one. Can't wait for the next in the series to come out!

A delightful read!

Roger Smith has delivered a gem -- an engrossing, fast-paced piece of historical fiction set amidst the commercial hum of mid-1830s Philadelphia. The first in a planned multi-volume series, the book plunges into the social and political crosscurrents of the era, exploring themes that include women’s rights, slavery and abolition, and tensions among the racial and ethnic groups struggling to get ahead in America. There’s also a spotlight on the Underground Railroad in all of its dreams and dangers. This tapestry is dynamically brought to life courtesy of a colorful cast of period characters, including the precocious, convention-defying but captivating preteen at the center of it all, Rian Krieger. Along the way, Smith cleverly weaves some notable historical figures into the tale. The result is a rich, behind-the-scenes period portrait of Philadelphia. Despite its topic, the novel isn’t dark -- Smith supplies a host of decent and even heroic characters who inspire by example and point the way to a better day. For lovers of history, there’s plenty here, but Smith presents it entertainingly; you won’t be lectured or get bogged down with stacks of facts and figures. The story skips along nicely, a page-turner with enough engaging subplots to hook even the most casual consumer of the genre. Meticulously researched and well-crafted, it’s a delightful read from which you’ll come away wishing you had the next volume in the series already in hand.

Very well done!!!

This is a book for readers who love history, as well as anyone who simply enjoys a well told story featuring a great set of characters. The author skillfully interweaves a complex and creative storyline with meaningful events of the past. Set in Philadelphia in the 1830s, we find ourselves in an incubator of landmark events. Along the journey, we encounter a myriad of fascinating individuals and find ourselves transported directly into the scenes, seeing what they see, thinking what they think, and feeling what they feel. The text is perfectly paced to flow at just the right speed. It is fast enough to keep us consistently engrossed, but slow enough to allow appreciation for all of the painstaking details. Every page is important to the plot. This book shines a fresh, singular, and very worthy perspective on a crucial period in our nation's evolution.

A Great New Novel

Historical fiction is always a bit tricky to write, as finding the right balance between facts, and an enjoyable story line is often so difficult to achieve. But Roger Smith manages to find that perfect balance from the moment you start reading his new novel, The Conductor. He has managed to meld historical facts (I would hazard to guess that many folks would be learning for the first time,) with a gripping, engaging storytelling.
As an aficionado of good character development, I must say that Roger once again hits the mark with this novel. I found myself completely engrossed not just with his main protagonist, Rian, but with each and every character that populate this excellent story. I would recommend this novel to anyone without any hesitation. If I have any complaint, it would have to be that the second installment of this series is not immediately available as I find myself itching to continue this amazing story.

Historical fiction that opens new vistas and points of view

Our introduction to Rian Krieger, the intrepid heroine of The Conductor, begins with her beating up a local boy who called her a “dirty Mick girl.” We learn that 11 year-old Rian is a social justice warrior who objects to a pecking order where Irish and free Black Americans are clawing one another at the bottom. She also detests all the stereotyped expectations for girls of her era. Rian’s Irish mother died when she was young and her German father does not share the racial and ethnic biases of his era, but walks a fine line in navigating the prejudiced attitudes of the workers in his carriage factory, especially his decision to hire as factory foreman a formerly enslaved free Black man. Rian is happiest when wearing boys’ clothes, working at the factory, and using ingenuity to solve technical problems. She is forever challenging the status quo of 19th century norms, and remains undaunted when her empathy and natural curiosity about the world lead her into tricky and sometimes dangerous situations. In short, young Rian Krieger is a force of nature, always looking toward a future without limits on what a person can accomplish. As the first book in this series ends, she is not only on her way to being a conductor in the Underground Railroad, but in a larger sense, works to conduct those around her toward a future where people are judged by their character and hard work rather than their age, gender, ethnic origin, or the color of their skin. Impressive debut!