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Victoria (Tory) Blaisdell longs to live a life as adventurous and independent as that of her heroine, Jane Eyre. When Tory's father loses his job and decides to seek a share of the newly discovered gold in California, Tory stows away on the westbound ship carrying her father and younger brother, Jacob. Though San Francisco is mud-caked, frenzied, and full of wild and dangerous men, Tory quickly finds friends and independence - until her father leaves for the gold fields and the care of Jacob falls to her. Then Jacob vanishes, kidnapped, perhaps hidden among the hundreds of ships - called Rotten Row - that have been abandoned in the bay. If he is there, Tory must find him in a treacherous search. Tory comes close to losing everything in her quest for her own and her brother's freedom.