An often overlooked time period, at least in my personal historical fiction reading habits, is the Reconstruction Era immediately following the end of the Civil War, especially as it was for formerly enslaved people living in the American North. Nicole Glover’s debut speculative mystery novel The Conductors is an interesting depiction of that time period, a slow-paced mystery set in a world where Black folks can work magic, and featuring chosen and found family.
Hetty and Benjy were Conductors on the Underground Railroad who are now trying to find their place in post-Civil War society in Philiadelphia’s Seventh Ward, along with some of the people they helped escape from slavery. They are married but it was a marriage of convenience, something they’ve fallen into to allow greater freedom of movement for each of them. Although the magic system isn’t as well explained as it could be at times, I was really enchanted with the use of constellations as the source of the magic’s power, both from a historical perspective as well as the striking imagery it brings to the world. Hetty and Benjy used their magic skills to help them guide other enslaved people to freedom, but magic can be used for evil here too.
When an acquaintance stumbles across the dead body of an old friend and comes to Hetty and Benjy for help, they know they can’t trust the police to pay attention to the murder, much less solve it or prevent others from happening. Hetty and Benjy quickly realize they’ve gotten into something more sinister than they had expected, and have to work together to learn things about their community that some would prefer remain hidden. For those interested in speculative historical mysteries with found family, I strongly recommend checking out The Conductors.
The Conductors includes mention, discussion, and/or portrayal of enslavement, physical restraint, scars, discrimination, bigotry, racism, colorism, murder, infertility, alcohol consumption, drug use as a coping mechanism, war, gun violence, injury, broken bones, drowning, explosions, torture, funerals, death, grave robbing, miscarriage, and crossdressing as a disguise.
The second book in the series, The Undertakers, is due out in November of 2021, but it can be read as a standalone if series aren’t your thing.
– Review by Valerie, Newburg Branch