The Conductors by Nicole Glover
About the book
From a bold new voice in speculative fiction comes a vibrant historical fantasy of magic and murder set in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Hetty Rhodes and her husband, Benjy, were Conductors on the Underground Railroad, ferrying dozens of slaves to freedom with daring, cunning, and magic that draws its power from the constellations. With the war over, those skills find new purpose as Hetty and Benjy solve mysteries and murders in their community that white authorities would otherwise ignore.
In the heart of Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward, everyone knows that when there’s a strange death or magical curses causing trouble, Hetty and Benjy are the only ones that can solve the case. But when an old friend is murdered, their investigation stirs up a wasp’s nest of intrigue, lies, and long-buried secrets—and a mystery unlike anything they’ve handled before. With a clever, cold-blooded killer on the prowl, Hetty and Benjy—testing their magic and placing their lives at risk—will discover how little they really know about their neighbors . . . and themselves.
ReviewI must say that I had this book in my Netgalley account for ages and it has taken me this long to get around to reading it.
Why, you ask? Short answer is, I haven’t got a clue!
The Conductors is a mix of murder and magic, set in an alternate history of post civil war USA, following the emancipation of slavery..
This is a really inventive setting and Nicole Glover vividly weaves a tale of murder, magic and friendship, to make a book that grips you from the start.
The story revolves around Hetty & Benjy, who previously aided slaves to escape from their lives of servitude in their roles as conductors. Now, they live in Philadelphia,with Hetty working as a seamstress and Benjy as a blacksmith. However, on the side, they work as a husband and wife detective team, and continue to aid the community that they live in by dealing with crimes that the police would generally consider as not their problem.
One night, at a party at their friends house, they are approached by local entrepreneur (and all round dodgy bloke) Charlie Richardson. However, both Hetty and Benjy want nothing to do with whatever problems Charlie has.
When Charlie turns up dead in an alleyway with a cursed sigil carved in his chest. Hetty and Benji are drawn into a mystery that will have them questioning everyone around them, from a local political institution to their friends. In their efforts to solve the crime, they will uncover truths about those around them, including their nearest and dearest.
Nicole Glover does a fantastic job of weaving magic into this riveting mystery tale. You would think how could the two co exist? But Nicole Glover sews the magic system into the very tapestry of everyday life.
There are two aspects to the magic system in the book, Sorcery (which is the magic system used by white people) and Celestial magic (which is used by the African American population) and Glover clearly describes the distinction between the two systems, with Sorcery primarily using wands as a focal point for magical emanations, whilst Celestial magic uses the constellations to manifest power.
Now, obviously, a book cannot be carried by a magic system alone. We need characters, plot and world building.
And with this we need to move onto the characters. This has definitely got to be the most enchanting aspect of the book. Hetty & Benjy are solid and intriguing individuals that you want to spend time with. Hetty is strong, dogmatic, level headed and individualistic, whilst Benjy is insightful, meticulous and introspective. However, whilst all these characteristics are positive aspects, particularly in a detective, in real life they can turn around and bite the characters in the ass. For instance, Hetty's obsession with finding her sister leads to problems. Sometimes, she can be so short sighted that she does not see what is in front of her.
Not only do we have two strong leads, but we have a well written cast of supporting characters, such as Penelope and Eunice.
Now, let me get this out of the way. Murder/mystery is not usually my cup of tea. However, Nicole Glover deftly interweaves elements of murder with domestic and social issues, drawing you in to the world she has built. In addition, the book is peppered with interludes, shedding light on Hetty and Benjy’s past and their exploits helping other slaves to flee from their life.
Obviously with any fantasy book, you have to mention the world building. I liked Nicole Glover’s world building. She manages it so deftly that I actually believed that post civil war, America did actually have magic as she seems to make the world building part of the very fabric of the book.
So, if you like murder/mystery stories, interwoven with a fantastical edge and vivid characters, you wouldn’t go far wrong if you gave Nicole Glover’s ‘The Conductors’ a try.