NB—I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a review, all opinions are my own
I really enjoyed the world developed in The Conductors, and thoroughly enjoyed the way the reader was dropped into a fully formed life and situation. I am very interested in the magic systems (two!) that were introduced in this book, and look forward to learning more about it, particularly the limitations and comparative strength.
Being Australian (and white) I didn’t know much about the underground railroad or the complicated situation left after America outlawed slavery. The Conductors (as far as I could tell) handled the situation well, not shying away from the heartbreaking situations created, but also not becoming mired in tragedy.
The plot is a fairly classic mystery premise, to discover a murderer. I liked that Hetty and Benjy had previous investigative experience, and were incredibly proficient at magic as well as their trades. There was still plenty of tension and hurdles to overcome, not least of which was the still-racist society that The Conductors is set in. While Hetty and Benjy’s race certainly affected the way they lived their lives, it wasn’t the only important factor in the book. Writing a book in the setting and having black characters (freed slaves no less) be unaffected by racism would have been revisionism to an insulting extent, but if you’re worried about Hetty or Benjy being written more as a moral lesson than characters in their own right, don’t. The real-world building aspects of The Conductors were written in exactly the same way as the fantasy elements, and it truly helped the world and the characters in this book truly come to life, rather than seeming like a heavy-handed lesson.
I loved the unexpected romantic moments in this book, and loved the portrayal of a variety of relationship styles in this book. I have a terrible memory, so I did occasionally struggle to remember who the characters were, especially because my kindle account has been terrible so I could only read the book on my laptop so I read this book over a longer time period than usual. Nevertheless, I think the characters in The Conductors did have distinct voices and personalities that, as always, I’d love to learn more about, especially Penelope, Oliver and Thomas.
One thing I noticed, was that conflict tended to be introduced and resolve rather quickly, which made the book feel fast-paced but at times reduced the perceived severity of the problems. However, I usually read long-running sci fi and fantasy series, so I might just be used to plots that move a lot slower than typical whoddunnit mysteries.
As far as I know, The Conductors is a stand-alone novel (for now at least), but the mystery format lends itself well to a series that need not necessarily be read consecutively. The world is certainly rich, and the cast broad enough, for this to be the beginning of a very interesting series that I would absolutely read.
Overall, The Conductors was interesting, a little different to what I usually read, but quite similar at times to Lynn Viehl’s Disenchanted and Co series, Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series and oddly reminiscent at times of a classic Agatha Christie Poirot novel. I’d recommend this to people who enjoy a sprinkle of magic with their historical mysteries. The Conductors releases on the 2nd of March 2021.