In 1924, Pasha Chevalsky is a sixteen year old Russian immigrant struggling to make it in New York's Lower East Side. Forced to leave his home by invading Soviet forces, Pasha lives in a tenement house and cares for his widowed mother and sickly younger sister. As if being a poor immigrant wasn't bad enough, Pasha sold himself to a street gang known as The Breadwinners to help support his family. Pasha, who is gentle by nature, is forced to street fight, steal, and bootleg to earn a living. As much as he despises being a Breadwinner, he can never leave, for desertion is punishable by death. Fortunately for Pasha, his luck changes when the mythical Firebird appears and the impossible invades his life. Pasha encounters fire breathers in Central Park, strange dreams, a gypsy circus in Grand Central Terminal, and ultimately a meeting with a peculiar man named Staccato Nimbus who claims Pasha is the lost heir to an ancient throne in another world.