"The Conductors," Reviewed by Juliana Perri
With the recent Harry Potter reunion on New Year’s Day, fans of that fantastical world created by J.K. Rowling are reminded of the magic they experienced, prompting a hopeful reading community to search for their next similar read. A little over twenty years since the release of Rowling’s series, BIPOC author Nicole Glover answers that call, using her writing to not only ask readers to believe in the impossible once again, but also to contemplate the pervading and persisting social injustices that our society faces. Using similar elements from the wildly popular British series, Glover makes magic a fact of life in her first book The Conductors, a book set in post-Civil War Philadelphia. Hetty and Benjy, once slaves who escaped their oppressors and helped others do the same on the Underground Railroad, become a crime investigating couple who secretly and covertly take on cases that would otherwise be ignored by white authorities. Looking for answers regarding the strange criminal activities inundating their neighborhood, their fight becomes more personal when a close friend is the victim of a gruesome murder.
The book is structured by chapters that switch between present time and flashbacks to Hetty’s days on a plantation. The reversions to the past take her to the time of her escape with her sister, who Hetty realizes is missing following their daring attempt. Although at times it was hard to distinguish in what time each chapter took place, the two different storylines add layers to Glover’s novel. Taking just a second to look at the date posted on the first page of every chapter is a quick fix to any confusion, allowing Glover’s fully dimensional work to draw you in. The glimpses into Hetty’s past also provide an insight into Hetty’s inner struggle, something she conceals in the present time.
Less of a historical fiction and more of a fantasy novel, The Conductors may appeal to a mostly young adult audience. The magical aspect of the book is most often the main plot of Glover’s work, so while the narrative is grounded in a historically relevant period, it is Hetty and Benjy’s powers that take center stage. The constellations drawn on the first page of every chapter, which signal whichever sigil or spell Hetty or Benjy will use in the chapter, are a fun inclusion, but not necessarily a serious element.
A refreshing aspect of the book is its broad representation; even in post-Civil War Philadelphia, Glover writes a gay relationship and a secondary transgender character into her narrative. The Conductors calls for acceptance, inclusion, and an embracement of difference. Once the end of the novel is reached, the reader is left with a few questions about characters they have grown to love and their next steps. Such questions may be answered in Glover’s sequel The Undertakers, which came out in November of 2021.
This book is one to pick up if you’re a lover of historical fantasy, an enthusiast of the creation of fictional, magical worlds, or if you want to check out an author who is commenting on current social issues in their own unique way.
Harper Collins Publishers
Juliana Perri is an English major at Villanova University from New York. Currently enrolled in numerous English classes, if she is not reading for class, she is reading for fun. Finding great reads suggested to her by friends, best-selling lists, or even, yes, booktok, Juliana loves cracking a cover open and escaping into a new story.