I was pleasantly surprised by The Conductors, because the synopsis made it sound like it could go either very good or very bad. I was also expecting this to be a one-off, but after I finished the book I got an ad for The Undertakers on Kindle, so I guess this is going to be a series.
Hetty and Benjy are a married couple who married out of convenience, not love, and Hetty makes sure that the reader knows this at every turn, and even makes sure to remark that she couldn’t imagine having a “love match” like all of their friends have, because it seems so exhausting to have to care about the person you’re married to. It’s clear the Benjy has deeper feelings for Hetty even as the book opens, and Hetty slowly starts to evolve over the course of the book as well.
The setting – post-Civil War era Pennsylvania – shows that even though the war is over and the North has usually always been better than the South for freed slaves, there are still strict hierarchies that you have to follow and Hetty and Benjy can’t go everywhere/do everything they need to in order to solve the murders they’ve been tasked with solving. There are a few infuriating encounters that have everything to do with Hetty’s skin color, but these are usually solved with Hetty’s quick thinking.
Even though this is a mystery book, I think the lines connecting the dots for the mystery miss their marks a few times. I had to wait for the reveal at the end of the book (the villain spends five pages detailing their plots and plans and saying how they did it, which I thought was overkill and meant that the author needed to spend more time weaving their story) for it to all pull together, and even then it still didn’t make a lot of sense. There were so many things that seemed to appear as a clue just out of convenience, and nothing seemed to connect in the end, but I guess I have to defer to the author on this one.
I think my major complaint with the book is that, even after reading the entire novel, I still don’t really understand how the magic system works. “Sorcery” requires a wand and is only legal to be used by white people (I think), and “Celestial magic” uses the stars/constellations and can be cast without a wand (and can be sewn into clothes/requires sigils to cast), and I’m not sure how exactly it works. It was fun to read about Virgo appearing and protecting Hetty from harm, or Canis Major being cast to wrap up a bad guy to keep them from fleeing, but I want to know more about how this magic system works. I need to know the rules. How do you cast Celestial magic with your hands – do you stab dots into the air? Swirl your hand in the right series of lines? I want details!
All in all, though, I enjoyed the story, I enjoyed the magic system, and I might take Kindle up on their offer to check out the second book in the series. I’d give this book a 3.5/5 star rating, because if there had been a more clear magic system and some better foreshadowing, I think this would have been an easy five-star novel. If you’re looking for something different from your normal fantasies, I’d absolutely recommend this book. Maybe you’ll get the clues (maybe I’m just dumb and can’t see them), maybe the magic system will make more sense to you.
And as always, keep reading.