The Conductors by Nicole Glover


cover195487-mediumA compelling debut by a new voice in fantasy fiction, The Conductors features the magic and mystery of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series written with the sensibility and historical setting of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. 

Meet 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 fantasy writers, such as Victor LaValle and Zen Cho, who use speculative fiction to delve into important historical and cultural threads. 

Nicole Glover is being lauded as the next Octavia Butler, and the comparison isn’t far off the mark. While Butler is recognized as a giant in the fantasy & science fiction worlds and forged the way for socially conscious Black fantasy (Kindred is probably the most perfect story I’ve ever read), Glover brings a freshness to the genre. A member of the Harry Potter generation, Glover clearly has been influenced by the flood of magic and mystery that erupted in the wake of the HP mania of the 1990s and early 2000s. However, her use of fantasy and magic to reimagine the lives and abilities of Africans both during and after enslavement is new to me and absolutely fascinating.

Riffing off the use of the night sky by enslaved Africans escaping the American South, Glover creates a new magical infrastructure wholly separate from the HP universe. Here, Africans practice Celestial magic, drawing on the power of nature and the universe. Whites, on the other hand, rely on sorcery enabled by wands. The Celestial magic is considered “simple” but the reader learns quickly that simple does not mean weak.

Glovers main characters, Hetty and Benjamin Rhodes, are the titular Conductors – those who guided enslaved people to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Now, post emancipation, they function as detectives. They solve problems, they find people and things, and they right wrongs. They also navigate a multi-segregated society – white and black, rich and poor, men and women – where old wrongs are never forgotten and hatred runs deep. Below the surface of magic, however, is a story about people building new lives after living through unimaginable trauma. There is courage and bravery in this story, but also sheer determination from unforgettable characters.

This should be one of the hottest books of 2021, and I really, really hope it gets picked up for television or the big screen. I can see this sitting in teen sections of libraries and bookstores, but I really hope adult fantasy readers give this a chance.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy