The Conductors, by Nicole Glover is fantasy mystery set in post-slavery America. The setting is so unusual that I immediately wanted to see where it was going and everything about this novel was a very welcome breath of fresh air, from the magic system to the take on the side romance.
Of course I was drawn by the beautiful cover but what really got me was imagining this alternative reality where people did magic, and slaves, though free, are still fighting to be allowed to practice their full talent. It echoed this fight for education they truly had to go through, as well as voting and so many other things that should be basic human rights. When a friend of theirs is found gruesomely murdered, you have to wonder what from political to common jalousy got him killed.
Hetty is a complex character, the type that is really intriguing, full of contradictions, real emotions and a drive that you can only envy. I really enjoyed viewing this very different world through her and loved discovering about her past even if I didn’t always see how it was linked to the present. Oddly enough, most of the tension of this murder mystery didn’t come from the case itself, but actually from the relationships between characters. The construction and the focus is so different that people might feel a little unsettled, but it made sense to me as Hetty is in fact more worried about her interaction with the live people she cares about, than the dead men. For people very much into murder mystery that might seem a little slow and not exactly going in the direction they would want, but to me that wasn’t really the point of the story.
Another thing I greatly enjoyed is the relationship between Hetty and her husband. A lot of the beginning mystery seemed to be what kind of relationship they truly had. They are great friends, we immediately see that they are utterly dependable and essential partners in their past freedom fighting days… but are they really a couple or is it all convenience?
I will add that I loved the magical system. It is the first time I read of one dependent on stars. There are a few systems in that world, people seem to find different ways to harness their powers, and it makes that world really come alive. White people are weary and depreciative of the old slave star-magic. But they certainly do not allow the newly free-people to learn sorcery with wands, a much more powerful magic. Both Hetty and Benji are amazing star practitioners but with the shifting world under their feet, is it enough against sorcery?
There is many amazing ideas in this book and I certainly do want to follow the author and intend to continue that series because it is absolutely unique and fascinating.
That said there is some bad points. The Conductors does feel like a first novel in that some of the plot was a little murky. It all makes sense, but what I mean is that the pace can be a little strange, the flash backs don’t always seem to serve a purpose, there is too many people introduced all over the place, they add flavour but we didn’t really need all of those extras that come in for one line here and disappear forever after. The world is so dense and full of things some of the main ideas get a little lost, and while it is certainly interesting for a growing series, and for a fascinating world, it did mean that the tension slacked a lot at times. Because I really enjoyed Hetty and the world this didn’t bother me too much, but I can see where people could put down the book. While I liked it, I can’t say I absolutely loved it either. I loved many of the ideas inside, but I have higher hopes for the future volumes.
I highly recommend this novel to people who liked the time traveling classic Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, and the beautiful graphic novel White All Around by Wilfrid Lupano and Stéphane Fert. Anyone who wants insights into the post slavery world with a dash of marvelous will love this book.