The Conductors by Nicole Glover
Rating: 4 stars
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, SciFi/Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
Representation: Black characters, transgender man, racial passing
Content Warning: Murder
Magic, murder, and a bit of mayhem is all in a day’s work…
Whether it’s bodies found chopped up in a trunk, cursed necklaces, or deadly magic, Hetty and Benjy Rhodes are on the case.
As former Underground Railroad Conductors, solving murders and other mysteries is work they gladly take on as they navigate Post Civil War Philadelphia. While Hetty and her husband have solved dozens of murders, their newest case involves the brutal murder of a friend.
While the death is terrible enough, the circumstances around it lead Hetty and Benjy into a number perils. Perils that involved snobby elites, doubts about their closest friends, magic of the most dangerous sort, and unexpected revelations that will change everything….
The Conductors is a genre fusion as a Historical SciFi/Fantasy Mystery with a splash of Romance. Glover created a truly creative and original magical reimagining of Black experience in the North following emancipation. I love that the magic of this book is tied to star constellations harkening back to the stories of runaway slaves using the stars to guide them to freedom. Glover even connects the origin of this magic to the mixing of Indigenous and African American cultures in the South. I haven't seen or read many books set in the Reconstruction era and I like that I was pulled in by the mystery of this novel and the fact that it takes place in Philadelphia instead of in the South. With all of these elements, someone who is not well versed in Black history or the U.S. history in general can learn in a captivating way.
The representation of the trans character, Sy, in this book is not othering or blown out of proportion, which is wonderful because he is just like everyone else in the book. Sometimes when authors want to add more inclusivity, they add a "diverse" character and then make a big deal about introducing them only to never see the character in the story again. Sy is a part of the main cast of the story, so we get to see him and hear references to him throughout the book.
Another great show of representation was with the way that Glover depicted African American life after the war. She showed the diverse experiences of Black folks by choosing to set the story in the North and including the class differences, new comers vs. old guard, and relatives who pass for white. These things were a part of daily life for many Black folx in the North and I appreciate seeing it in fiction.
I liked that I couldn't solve the mystery easily and the romance being centered around a marriage of convenience with a very egalitarian couple at the center. However, the book felt very long due to the pacing. I struggled to pay attention to this book when I physically read it. When I switched to audiobook, it was better but it still dragged along. I think this may be due to some of the scenes lasting too long or not really being needed to further the plot. There was also a lot of dialogue that made me forget what the characters were meant to be doing, at times.
This is a great book for people who don't mind a slow-paced novel, but I'd recommend that you take advantage of the audiobook version to get through it.