As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Hetty Rhodes helped usher dozens of people north with her wits and magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband Benjy have settled in Philadelphia, solving murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch. When they find one of their friends slain in an alley, Hetty and Benjy bury the body and set off to find answers. But the secrets and intricate lies of the elites of Black Philadelphia only serve to dredge up more questions. To solve this mystery, they will have to face ugly truths all around them, including the ones about each other.
In this vibrant and original novel, Nicole Glover joins a roster of contemporary writers within fantasy, such as Victor LaValle and Zen Cho, who use speculative fiction to delve into important historical and cultural threads.
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy in return for an honest review.
This is one of those books that is the definition of the two star read. Everything about it is okay. The story, the characters, the world building, the magic – everything is simply okay. Unfortunately, it all adds up to a story, that while you’re not quite ready to mark it “did not finish”, you aren’t exactly excited to pick it back up either.
Initially I really liked the the historical setting, the story, and the idea of the celestial magic system. However, the execution of the last two items failed to bring any life to the perfectly adequate writing.
First, the pace of the story is so meanderingly slow and bogged down by generic information dumps that the story itself gets rather lost. Every time the author went to add details into the world it took away from the momentum of the murder mystery while failing to add much to the world itself given how generic much of the added details were. For example, the idea of using constellations as magic was interesting, but its never really explained how it works so even calling it a “system” seems like a stretch. By never giving even the most basic rules for how the magic actually functions, something that should have been one of the most interesting parts of the books becomes mere background decoration.
Further, the slow story pace could have been balanced out by the characters, but our main person is so unkind towards pretty much everyone around her (mainly people who are supposed to be her friends/loved ones) all the time, that even the sympathy engendered by her backstory doesn’t last long with the reader. Its difficult to follow around an unlikable protagonist while only occasionally interesting things happen to them.
By the time the story does finally start to pick up, more than halfway through the book, I didn’t really care what happened anymore and it definitely felt like just “going through the motions” to get to the end of the story. This is close to the worst possible thing when talking about a book that, at its core, is supposed to be a murder mystery. I’m not sorry I read it, but I find it unlikely I would pick up the sequel.