God, I enjoyed this book so much!
The Conductors focuses on Henrietta Rhodes and her husband Benjamin, known as Hetty and Benjy who are conductors on the Underground Railroad. Most of the book takes place in 1872 but there are flashbacks to the 1860’s before and during the Civil War. Hetty and Benjy help escaped slaves reach Philadelphia. What makes their work even more special is they are both masters of Celestial Magic: magic of the constellations, the earth and growing things. It’s fascinating…when they cast sigils they are made of glowing stars and take on the images of the constellations, the Hunter, the Bull, etc.
To quote: “The magic Hetty’s mother taught her was a mixture of lore brought over from Africa, from the West Indies and even from the native people of this land. Mingled together, it created a magic system that was greater than the sum of its parts. It incorporated traditions that found ways to brew magic with herbs, to enchant candles for protection, to use song to rejuvenate, and, most important, to develop sigils from the constellations.”
Hetty is a master of this craft, as is Benjy though his deals more with building things, metal work, blacksmithing, carpentry. Once established in Philadelphia, Hetty helps however she can. She is also a professional seamstress and dress designer. And Benjy works in a blacksmith shop. But it’s what they do with their magic that’s the crux of this story.
It starts off with the murder of a friend of theirs who was always working money-making schemes, living a flashy life. He’s found foully murdered in an alley with an evil sigil carved on his chest. Hetty and Benjy, also highly talented at investigating crime, are pulled into the situation by the unlucky soul who found the mangled body. How Hetty’s magical skills weave into the others of her community in dealing with healing, protection spells and solving mysteries are fascinating. And Benjy, ever supportive with his talents in building and mending things: they are a terrific duo. Both are literate and intuitive, though Hetty feels Benjy is the more intellectual of them as he always has a book in hand when he can relax.
As Hetty and Benjy work on the first murder, more occur, though the method of murder is not always the same. Tracking down clues and witnesses, we get a view of their life in Philly and the environment of dealing with whites who in this book mostly keep their distance as does the black community. That’s not to say it’s all copacetic, it’s just more focused on the lives of the black community.
Whites, in contrast to using Celestial Magic, are users of Sorcery and always flourish a wand to manage their spells. Sorcery came from Europe and is more rigid. Neither of the magics cross paths; especially, as there is a law against Blacks using wands in their magic. I love this aspect of Glover’s world building. Both have very powerful magic, but mostly keep it to themselves. It is not a secret: it is the way things are at this point.
Hetty and Benjy are juggling several murders now, and we meet more fascinating characters in Hetty’s world and unexpectedly there are uneasy clashes between Sorcery and Celestial Magic. Underlying Hetty’s work, is her desire to discover what happened to her sister who disappeared as they were runaways to the North. Finding Esther has been the driving force of Hetty’s life for thirteen years. Hetty still sends letters out to folks as she discovers a lead, hoping someone has seen her or crossed paths with her. But little information is forthcoming.
The conclusion of this terrific story is a whopper and resolves many things.
This was such a refreshing look at a world where magic is controlled by blacks and whites equally and is as common and accepted as a talent for fine cooking or perfume making. I really cannot recommend this high enough and I really, really want a sequel soon!!! ~~ Sue Martin