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.
Title: The Conductors | Author: Nicole Glover | Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | Pub. Date: 2021-March-2 | Language: English | ISBN13: 978-0358197058 | Source: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review consideration | Starred Review
The Conductors Review
The Conductors is an imaginative plot that asks, What if magic existed during the Civil War? Slaves with the ability to conjure spells quickly found themselves as brutal targets and their magical abilities clamped and silenced through the use of magic-stopping collars. After the War, Black men and women were allowed to use magic, but only under the strict guidelines within the law. White members of society were allowed to possess wands, and yield magic as they saw fit.
At the heart of this dramatic historical fantasy world lies Hetty, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and her loyal husband Benjy. During the war Hetty and Benjy, both wielders of magic, use their abilities to bravely free numerous slaves. But the one person Hetty couldn’t save was her sister, who remained in captivity while Hetty found freedom. Hetty is haunted by this moment, and it acts like a thorn in her side as she devotes her life to a new calling as a detective within the Black community post-Civil War.
She and Benjy are the “go-to” crime solvers in their community. When an injustice occurs, they are the ones who solve the case and restore justice. Now a sting of murders has left them confused and their community scared. But Hetty refuses to give up. Her resolve and Benjy’s strength compliment each other from the start. Their relationship blooms throughout the pages, and their delicate love story woven into the backdrop acts to anchor the plot against the violence standing center stage.
While the plot slows from time-to-time, there are interludes peppered throughout that pick up the tension and quickly recapture the reader’s attention. Within the plot lies threads addressing racism, discrimination, “white passing” Black members of society, the horrors of slavery, and reconstructing a life when starting with nothing. This compelling read is perfect for those looking for a fresh genre bending mystery with a strong female lead.
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