The Conductors by Nicole Glover

Published by John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books

Synopsis: A compelling debut by a new voice in fantasy fiction, The Conductors features the magic and mystery of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files written with the sensibility and historical setting of Octavia Butler’s Kindred: Introducing Hetty Rhodes, a magic-user and former conductor on the Underground Railroad who now solves crimes in post–Civil War Philadelphia.

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.

Expected Publication Date: 2nd March 2021

“…A story is a living creature, and they need a personal touch to live on. You breathe in your woes, your loves, your troubles, and eventyally they become something new. They aren’t the books you love so much. Stories change with the tellers.” – Hetty (The Conductors by Nicole Glover)

Even as I was reading this book, I knew it was going to be tricky to review. Speculative fiction is one of my favourite thinky genres and always the hardest to put my thoughts into words so you’ve been warned…

The story is about Hetty Rhodes and her husband Benjy. They were conductors on the Underground Railroad, helping people escape slavery before abolition and have now settled in Philadelphia where they investigate crimes in the Black community.
When one of their friends turns up dead, they investigate the case and learn a number of uncomfortable truths about their friends and each other.

What makes this speculative fiction is that magic exists in this world – white people use sorcery, which is comparable to industrialism; they use wands and keep the mechanics of the magical system to themselves in order to hoard power, while black people use celestial magic which is equally powerful but more organic and strongly policed so that it doesn’t become too strong.

The author has a beautiful way of telling a story and captures the time period, though the balance between the crime investigation and flashbacks to their time as Conductors did slow the pace down a bit. I loved the use of Celestial magic in this book, it’s not something I’ve come across before – characters  can use astrological signs  to focus and conjure magic with strong effect.

Hetty is a very practical woman, she puts aside most of her deeper feelings in order to protect the people around her. This is obviously something borne from necessity to get her through life but can make her a less than sympathetic character at times so it’s important to reflect on the reason she is that way.
I’m not normally one for subtlety (heathen that I am) but I did actually catch on to it in this case – the relationships between characters is something I’ll be thinking about for a few days and probably pick up on new layers that I wish I’d mentioned in this review…

This book is strong in both the historical fiction and detective genres, I would highly recommend it to fans of either.

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