The Conductors by Nicole Glover
Release date: March 2nd, 2021
Murder and Magic #1
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 they solve mysteries and murders 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 nest of intrigue, lies, and long-buried secrets- and a mystery unlike anything they handled before. With a clever, cold-blooded killer on the prowl testing their magic and placing their lives at risk, Hetty and Benjy will discover how little they really know about their neighbors . . . and themselves.
I adore magical historical fiction and The Conductors is a stunning start to a series that takes place after the Civil War. The book didn’t dwell on actual battles that took place during the Civil War but it did highlight the efforts of the Conductors of the Underground Railroad – specifically Hetty and Benjy. Nicole Glover added in two very different types of magic and the type wielded by those of color (mainly African roots but it did state that some of the magic was learned or expanded upon by the Native tribes) was based upon constellations with varied uses and applications. My only issue with the magic was that the sigils/constellations is that they feature names we are familiar with; Ursa Minor/Major, Libra, Leo. Honestly, it’s not so much of an “issue”, I would guess that they would use names that would have been passed down through their families and/or community? The author also may have used names that the general populace would know to create less confusion? Less time is spent on explaining sorcery – other than it is used by white people, requires a wand, and doesn’t require an innate magical ability to utilize.
The magic Hetty’s mother taught her was a mixture of lore brought over from Africa, from the West Indies, and even from the native peoples of this land. Mingled together, it created a magic system that was greater than the sum of its parts. It incorporated traditions that found ways to brew magic with herbs, to enchant candles for protection, to use song to rejuvenate, and most important, to develop sigils from the constellations.
The timeline also takes place in Hetty and Benjy’s past in addition to their present time. Magic in the time of slavery brings a whole new set of circumstances to a time in history that was already atrocious to begin with. Magical collars that punished all on the property with a hint of magical ability. The author did an amazing job with both past and present views on racial subjects. Although Hetty and Benjy are no longer Conductors on the Underground Railroad that doesn’t mean that they stopped helping those in need and when crimes upon their own aren’t given the time of day by white authorities they take it upon themselves to see that the cases are thoroughly investigated. Hetty and Benjy’s past sheds light on their present – especially their varied and vibrant supporting characters and friends. There were many turns in their investigation that I didn’t see coming – there are quite a few interconnected moving pieces that kept things interesting. How it all tied together was a surprise and I had no qualms with how the book concluded the case or itself.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Conductors and I would highly recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fantasy, magic, the Civil War era, murder mysteries, and diverse reads. Nicole made an exceedingly strong debut novel and I cannot wait to see what trouble Hetty and Benjy find themselves working out next. I would like to thank John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Nicole Glover, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this unique historical fantasy debut – all opinions are my own.