Welcome Back, Booklovers! We're kicking off March with a historical fantasy release. The Conductors is the first book in the Murder and Magic series. I've been reading more historical fiction lately and I'm really enjoy how it humanizes these people. Because often when we talk about Black people throughout history especially prior to The Civil Rights Movement we talk about them as if oppression was the only thing going on in their lives.
It's important to note I listened to the audiobook which I received via Libro FM for this while reading alongside an advance copy that I was sent by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Nothing really changes between them outside of some grammar and sentence structures. While I usually don't like Bahni Turpin's narration I thought it flowed steadily here.
As the first book in the series we are introduced to a lot of characters. And like many fantasy stories you're thrown into the world rather than eased in. And there's so many different moving pieces to set up the series.
This story follows Henriette "Hetty" Rhodes who alongside her husband Benjamin "Benjy" have worked to help Black people escape slavery through the Underground Railroad. And even though the 13th Amendment has been passed and ratified by Congress for some that freedom exists solely on paper. The story opens with wanted ads for Negro runaways. As well as an ad for Hetty and Benjy who are wanted dead or alive for stealing slaves.
In this world some Black people do practice magic and previously were forced to wear collars to identify and restrain them. They are now permitted to use magic do so but with restrictions defined by the local authorities. But they can only use one type of magic and are not permitted to use the sorcery that white people use which includes magic wands and is considered a more powerful form of magic.
The particular brand of magic that Hetty and Benjy use is a celestial magic brought over from Africa and passed down through generations. It incorporates brew magic with herbs, songs, and sigils from constellations. Magic users often draw these sigils into the air, dirt, or other objects. Hetty sews them into her clothes as well as Benji's so they always have a reserve of magic ready.
This magic aided slaves on the plantation to aid in tasks such of picking crops or to making healing balms for wounds. You are reminded throughout that these people are not far removed from slavery with flashbacks to life on the plantation and how Hetty had to use her talent in sewing to survive. The transition to free life and how different people in the community fit in. We meet a character who is passing as white which meant cutting family ties and living in fear of being discovered. And some people did it to aid others in their communities while some did it to advance themselves only.
There's a killer on the loose and unfortunately one of their close friends falls victim and because white folks don't care about Black lives they must take the investigation into their own hands. It's not talked about enough especially since our history books like to paint them as saints but white people in the Union also saw Black people as inferior.
Hetty and Benji as a couple have a very interesting dynamic because their marriage started off as a way to be easily partnered together without drawing suspicion and question of honor. And even though they've been together for a few years they're finally addressing their feelings towards each other.
At times the mysteries got lost in the other plots but I enjoyed this story and it kept me enthralled and I couldn't always keep up with the cast of characters. Hetty and Benjy had an easy chemistry and work well as a unit. And I think as this series progresses there will be a more seamless blend of the magical, mystery, and community aspects. And the ending left for some interesting new opportunities to arise for the duo. I look forward to reading The Undertakers later this year.
Also if you're someone who wants a quick guide of all major players in the story Nicole Glover has one available here.