March 22, 2021

The Conductors (Murder and Magic #1)

The Conductors (Murder and Magic #1)

by Nicole Glover

Published March 2, 2021
by John Joseph Adams / Mariner Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Rating: 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Fantasy / Historical Fiction


From the Publisher:

As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Hetty Rhodes helped usher dozens of people north with her wits and magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband Benjy have settled in Philadelphia, solving murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch. When they find one of their friends slain in an alley, Hetty and Benjy bury the body and set off to find answers. But the secrets and intricate lies of the elites of Black Philadelphia only serve to dredge up more questions. To solve this mystery, they will have to face ugly truths all around them, including the ones about each other.

In this vibrant and original novel, Nicole Glover joins a roster of contemporary writers within fantasy, such as Victor LaValle and Zen Cho, who use speculative fiction to delve into important historical and cultural threads.

My Thoughts:

I was instantly intrigued by the idea of a historical fiction book, set in post-Civil-War Philadelphia, focusing on two people who had led slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad, but with a twist – magic! This story vividly illustrates the situation of free/freed blacks in this time period (some were doing very well, but there was still widespread discrimination) but mixes in some fanciful aspects. Blacks were capable of doing “celestial magic” and whites were capable of doing “sorcery,” a style of magic forbidden to blacks and which required the use of a wand, unlike celestial magic. I loved how the main character, Hetty Rhodes was able to flick her fingers and conjure a celestial being: a dog, a phoenix, a lion, among other constellation-based figures. I do wish the author had explained a bit more about how this was done and why Hetty would choose (for example) a phoenix instead of a dog, and vice versa. When one of Hetty and Benjy Rhodes’ circle of friends is murdered, they set out to discover who did it. This created a lot of uncomfortable situations since everyone in their circle had to be considered a suspect at some point. There were a few “interludes” set before and during the Civil War to explain Hetty and Benjy’s backstory, but the main action takes place in 1871. In addition to the mystery and the magic, I particularly enjoyed how Hetty and Benjy’s marriage of convenience turned into a real love match. This is listed as the first book in a new series called Murder and Magic. I look forward to reading the next book!