The Conductors by Nicole Glover // Book Review

I was really excited to read this one especially since historical fantasy is a sub-genre I’m really into lately. But what I read felt more like a historical fiction with a touch of fantasy. It may be perfect for those who love alternate history or a historical fiction that takes place during the late 19th century.

Here’s More about The Conductors

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.

My Thoughts

I liked this one! While it wasn’t entirely what I’m usually reading (more on the fantasy side than the historical side), I still appreciated the story and the world Nicole Glover’s built for Hetty and Benjy. This was such an interesting world and while I imagined it being more like a crime noire story, I’m still happy with the results.

I really loved the magic. While it could have done with a bit more explanation on how they all work (what’s the difference between sigil magic and sorcery?), I loved how it’s used. I loved reading Hettie sitting and sewing constellations into the collars of her shirts and how she’s able to lift an entire bathtub with her things in it and move. The magic felt romantic especially when it’s using constellations. I loved seeing the different signs of the zodiac come to life and help Hettie and Benjy on their missions.

I also liked the setting. I’ve read a few historical fiction stories that are set in this post Civil-War America, I liked how this one still continues to look back at the events prior to the war and how it affects the characters in the book. You can tell from the subtle nods to enslavement and the war that this is still fresh in the characters’ minds and how their decisions are sometimes based on the world they used to live in. But I also appreciated reading about how this young Philadelphian town is thriving with affluent Black Americans making a name for themselves after the war.

Hettie was definitely my favorite character and while Benjy does have his moments, I loved following Hettie along. Perhaps it’s because most of the flashbacks are about Hettie and her life, but she’s also such a humble and strong character who isn’t as showy as some of the other characters. She’s a seamstress who doesn’t want to be bulldozed into working for little money. She’s a detective who can use magic, but she doesn’t use it for just anyone. Even though some characters bugged Hettie, she still kept her cool and composure and never showing her full hand before figuring out the situations.

And for the other characters in the book, I don’t know how but I fell in love with them as well. Everyone from Penelope who seems just so kind and brews potions for Hettie to Alice, the passing Black elite looking for her sister. There were so many characters and each of them had such different and interesting personalities. I loved how developed they were and how they relate back to Hettie and Benjy.

However, I wasn’t a fan of the mystery. I think it’s because it didn’t feel like the most important part of the book. I found it much more interesting to read about Hettie and her journey to find her sister, to help out the local townspeople, and contribute to society. But when it came to the mystery behind the murders, it almost felt like an afterthought. I was surprised by the big reveal at the end because there weren’t enough breadcrumbs or clues within the text to suggest otherwise. I think this is the first book in a really long time that I couldn’t figure out who did it before the reveal. You can definitely tell there’s something going on and there are hints throughout the story, but I also felt they were too few and far between. Every time it came back to the mystery component, I’d completely forgotten it was a part of the book.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good historical fiction novel with a bit of magic and a bit of mystery. I wouldn’t hold out for figuring out the culprit before the end of the book because it may get in the way of your enjoyment of the story.

Thanks to HMH Books for sending me a copy of this book. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

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