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.
*I was sent an ARC of this novel via Netgalley & Mariner Books in exchange for an honest review – a big thank you to them for the opportunity to read this prior to release*
The Conductors is a unique and well written blend of historical fiction and fantasy with an exciting premise and multi layered storylines. I was intrigued by the synopsis of this book and of how the magic system and the historical elements would tie in together and this was done to such great effect. The novel follows Hetty and Benjy, a married couple who were once conductors leading enslaved people to freedom and now live in Philadelphia solving crimes. When strange occurrences keep cropping up and getting close to home however, they find themselves locked into a sinister and mysterious plot…
One of my favourite things about this book were the characters, especially Hetty and Benjy our resident crime solving pair. I had no idea before going in that theirs was a marriage of convenience type set up but I really liked how this was done and how sweet their relationship was and how they eventually realise they’ve fallen for each other. Even aside from their romance, their dynamic was so enjoyable to read and I liked how well they communicated and understood each other. It’s always nice to read such healthy married relationships and they are the epitome of this.
As well as Hetty and Benjy being great main characters, I loved the secondary characters and how Nicole Glover has featured the found family trope so prominently. Hetty and Benjy have a group of friends who have become like family to them, each with their own talents and stories. This element of the story becomes especially powerful towards the ending and I liked how the importance of friendship and platonic relationships was highlighted so well. I think this is also so moving because of the sense of loss so many of the characters have faced, being separated from members of their family whilst being enslaved, the friendships they’ve formed after and sense of community have become even more meaningful.
As well as the characters themselves, I really appreciated how Glover weaved between fact and fiction so well. I thought the fact that Hetty and Benjy were conductors, guiding people to safety and freedom was so interesting to read about as a reference to the Underground Railroad. Glover doesn’t hesitate to explore complex issues like class and race, delving into the disparities of experience between the characters in her novel who were ‘born free’ and those who were born on plantations. I also thought the depiction of an elite club of sorts with shady business dealings and heady sense of vice, was compelling and definitely helped heighten the sense of mystery when it comes to the murder mystery part of the plot.
I think for me, the murder mystery plot was one of the most compelling threads but the novel got off to a slightly slower start which meant the conclusion of the mystery felt a tad rushed. There was something about the reveal of the murderer which felt anticlimactic and there were other directions it could have taken which would have made it feel more satisfying. Who the murderer ended up being also felt like a bit of a letdown and I wasn’t bowled over by the reveal either, however I did enjoy the build up just not the culmination of it all.
Overall, The Conductors was an engaging story, with interesting characters readers will really root for and explorations of class and race that serve to establish it firmly as a brilliant new addition to the historical fiction genre. I would happily read many more of Hetty and Benjy’s adventures, I think there’s definitely room for a sequel which follows them exploring a different case or mystery, but I would totally get if this is just a standalone novel as it stands well on its own. I would definitely recommend this to readers who are looking for historical fiction with a fresh twist.