I remember reading something about Nicole Glover’s novel before it came out and thinking, “That sounds funs.” It did not disappoint. The story is set in the Reconstruction of the 1870’s but this is a reimagining of historical events with magic as an important element. Before the war, Hetty Rhodes, a former slave, was a conductor on the Underground Railroad using magic, smarts, and luck to bring other slaves north to freedom.
Now that the Civil War has ended, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, are trying to build a life in Philadelphia even as Hetty attempts to track down her younger sister who did not make it north. Benjy and Hetty have a growing reputation among the people in Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward as the ones to go to with problems that the police won’t handle (which as you might expect is any problem that a member of the black community has)—especially if it involves magic. In this alternate history, Hetty and Benjy, practice what is known as celestial magic that draws on the constellations while others, usually white folks, practice what is called sorcery, the more typical type using wands, incantations, etc.
Though they are usually the ones that seek out trouble, trouble comes to Hetty and Benjy’s doorstep when an old friend is brutally murdered and there are signs of dark magic on the body. In attempting to solve this mystery, Hetty and Benjy expose some long hidden secrets that make them rethink the past and question how well they know their friends.
Though it took me a bit to get all the people in Hetty and Benjy’s life straight, I appreciated that Glover kind of threw me into the middle of a complex world and made me work to figure out how things worked in this new context and how alternate the history was. I also appreciated that almost all the characters in the book (with the exception of some antebellum flashbacks and a woman who is “passing”) are black. Finally, this novel did what all good historical fiction does, with magic or without; it made me want to learn more about the real Seventh Ward in Philadelphia during that time.