I have a coworker who says “I don’t want to get out over my skis” a lot. I had never heard that expression before, but this book really feels like it encapsulates the phrase. The ideas are interesting, and the two main characters are great, but it feels like the story and the writing never quite live up to the concept.
This is an alternate history about the Underground Railroad and the uncertain times after the Civil War – except with magic. The story starts after Hetty and Benjy have already escaped, and for years have been using their wits and their magic to help other enslaved people to freedom. They also solve the odd disappearance or mystery when their neighbors ask (and the white authorities don’t care about the crimes). When bodies start showing up with dangerous magic symbols carved into them, Hetty and Benjy are on the case. They’re especially worried because the bodies frequently are people they know, or are found in places they know. A frame job, or a warning?
Hetty is definitely the best part of the book. She’s driven, devoted to her cause and her people, haunted by the disappearance of her sister, and one of the strongest magic-users in the area – and also occasionally prickly and petty in a way I appreciated. Benjy’s pretty handy himself, and I really liked their relationship. However, I would have liked to know more about how the magic worked, and the mystery gets super-convoluted. The writing wasn’t quite strong enough to hold it all together. It looks like this is the first in the “Murder and Magic” series, though, so I may give the next one a try to see if Glover grows into her story.