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The Shadow Cipher
Cover of The Shadow Cipher
The Shadow Cipher

"The pleasures of the novel go far beyond the crackling, breathless plot and the satisfaction of watching the puzzle fall into place. The book is shot through with humor, both laugh-out-loud and subtle." —New York Times Book Review

From National Book Award finalist and Printz Award winner Laura Ruby comes an epic alternate history series about three kids who try to solve the greatest mystery of the modern world: a puzzle and treasure hunt laid into the very streets and buildings of New York City.

It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo, and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.

"The pleasures of the novel go far beyond the crackling, breathless plot and the satisfaction of watching the puzzle fall into place. The book is shot through with humor, both laugh-out-loud and subtle." —New York Times Book Review

From National Book Award finalist and Printz Award winner Laura Ruby comes an epic alternate history series about three kids who try to solve the greatest mystery of the modern world: a puzzle and treasure hunt laid into the very streets and buildings of New York City.

It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo, and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.

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  • OverDrive Read
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  • Library copies:
    1
Levels-
  • ATOS:
  • Lexile:
    780
  • Interest Level:
  • Text Difficulty:
    3 - 4

Recommended for you

About the Author-
  • Laura Ruby is the author of books for adults, teens, and children, including the Printz Award—winning and National Book Award finalist Bone Gap, the Edgar-nominated mystery Lily's Ghosts, the Book Sense Pick Good Girls, and the acclaimed novels Play Me and Bad Apple. She is on the faculty of Hamline University's MFA in writing for children and young adults program and lives in the Chicago area. You can visit her online at www.lauraruby.com.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 15, 2017
    In this entertaining race through an alternate-history New York City, first in the York trilogy, several children attempt to unravel their city’s greatest unsolved puzzle in order to save their historic apartment building from an unscrupulous real-estate tycoon. Twins Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz are determined to solve the clues left behind by the Morningstarrs, legendary architects and inventors who dazzled New York with fantastic technology and skyscrapers before vanishing. As the intrepid trio follows a chain of previously undiscovered hints, they’re drawn deeper into the truth behind the so-called Old York Cipher. Printz Award–winner Ruby (Bone Gap) conjures a compelling vision of a city rife with enigmas and secrets through third-person narration that highlights the key roles played by the friends and a young neighbor named Cricket. The details of Ruby’s alternate New York fascinate—this is a world that features familiar pop culture references (Legos, Nancy Drew, Marvel superheroes), which are subtly tweaked and accompanied by intriguing tech, such as the robotic caterpillars that keep the Underway (aka subway) clean. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers clamoring for book two. Ages 8–12. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from March 15, 2017
    Printz winner Ruby's middle-grade series opener gracefully tackles magic, history, and gentrification. When a potato-faced real estate mogul buys their historic, rent-controlled building, three middle schoolers--bushy-haired, olive-skinned Jewish twins Tess and Theo and brown-skinned Trinidadian-Cuban neighbor Jaime--band together to solve a centuries-old mystery. At once thoroughly modern (a solar-powered city filled with a genuinely diverse cast of characters) and charmingly old-fashioned (steampunk machinery, ciphers, and a mystery at times reminiscent of Ellen Raskin or E.L. Konigsburg), Ruby's vision of New York brims with innovative details that perfectly support her themes of friendship, family, and history. Emotionally fragile, highly intelligent Tess and Theo are balanced by the less-volatile, artistically gifted Jaime: all are complex, nuanced adolescents. They throw themselves into the Morningstarr Cipher, named for the twins who built much of New York's astounding infrastructure (elevators that go sideways, subways that climb buildings), hoping to discover a treasure--but the Cipher -tr[ies] to solve you- as you solve it. This first volume opens up an ever expanding sense of magic, culminating in a bittersweet ending that promises bigger things to come. It's a doorstopper, but other than one brief dip, the pacing keeps the pages turning, while the details reward close reading. The past informs the present as the review informs readers: don't let this one go. (Mystery/fantasy. 10-15)

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from April 1, 2017
    Gr 5-8-In an alternate present-day New York, three seventh graders embark on a citywide adventure as they attempt to solve a centuries-old cipher in order to save their home. In the mid-19th century, the Morningstarr twins, brilliant inventors who created steampunk-esque technology and iconic architecture that greatly influenced New York, disappeared, leaving a puzzle for the city, known as the Old York Cipher. They bequeathed a large sum of money to their employee, Ms. Ava Oneal, as well as the building that the modern-day Biedermann twins Theo and Tess, along with their friend Jaime Cruz, live in and are trying to save. Ava, an intelligent and mysterious woman, sets in motion the events leading up to the present day. Unsure whom to trust and facing dangers around every corner, Theo, Tess, and Jaime must solve the cipher if they want to save New York as they know it. Ruby's latest is a high-stakes mystery novel filled with intriguing puzzles, solid world-building, and diverse characters. The Morningstarrs were immigrants to America and funded projects that were beneficial to people of all backgrounds. The wealthy real estate developer who wants to evict people from the Morningstarr apartment buildings is an antithesis to the Morningstarr legacy, which the teens are trying to protect. VERDICT An engaging series opener that will leave readers eagerly awaiting future installments.-Marissa Lieberman, East Orange Public Library, NJ

    Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist (starred review) ★ "In this smart, immersive series starter, Ruby expertly juggles stunning plot choreography, realistic stakes in a captivating fantasy setting, well-wrought characters, and flashes of sharp cultural commentary."
  • New York Times Book Review "The pleasures of this novel go far beyond the crackling, breathless plot and the satisfaction of watching the puzzle fall into place. The book is shot through with humor, both laugh-out-loud and subtle."
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review) ★ "This first volume opens up an ever expanding sense of magic, culminating in a bittersweet ending that promises bigger things to come. The past informs the present as the review informs readers: don't let this one go."
  • School Library Journal (starred review) ★ "Ruby's latest is a high-stakes mystery novel filled with intriguing puzzles, solid world-building, and diverse characters. An engaging series opener that will leave readers eagerly awaiting future installments."
  • Brightly.com "The first book in an exciting new series that's great for fans of steampunk, history, mystery, and magic. Let the puzzles begin!"
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    HarperCollins
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