Review: The Conductors
Updated: Dec 7, 2022
The Conductors, by Nicole Glover (2021)
Husband and wife Benjy and Hetty Rhodes are escaped slaves, and former Underground Railroad conductors, now living in Philadelphia in 1865, after the abolition of slavery. They spend their time helping other former slaves locate family members (including attempting to find Hetty's own sister, who she left behind) and investigating deaths in Philadelphia that the police don't care about (generally the deaths of Black people).
When one of their friends turns up dead in an alley, they focus all their efforts on tracking down the killer. The twist is that in this alternate version of history, Hetty and Benjy can do magic. Celestial magic, to be specific, which means being able to cast spells or wards by drawing out constellation "sigils" on the air or sewn onto materials. "Sorcery" also exists, but is considered evil, and practitioners can only perform it using wands, which are frowned upon (Hetty and Benjy both perform magic without a wand). Honestly, I never felt like I completely understood the difference between the two kinds of magic, the stimgas, and the rules about who was allowed to do what. Seemed like there were some specific regulations about Blacks vs whites doing different kinds of magic... but that description never came together in a clear way. Still, I found the use of magic interesting, even if the world-building wasn't entirely there to back it up. In a way, the magic isn't the point - it's just a tool they use, like the tools from Benjy's blacksmith shop, to get their jobs done.
I suggest reading, not listening to, this book because there are a lot of minor characters that come into play as suspects, and I found it difficult to keep them all straight when I was listening to it. Overall, though, the characters are interesting, and I liked watching Hetty & Benjy's relationship grow and change throughout the story.
This is Glover's debut novel and I thought it was a lot of fun, despite being a little rambly and long-winded at times, especially if you like books about magic &/or murder mysteries set in another era.
UP NEXT: Re-reading The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins