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.
I requested this book through Netgalley mainly based on the cover. And then I read the premise and it sounded Amazing. A murder mystery, with magic, in post Civil War Philadelphia. This could be great. I really wanted it to be great. And sadly it wasn’t. This is the author’s debut book, and you can tell. There are issues with it across the board. So much so that I DNF’ed it about 60% in.
First of all the magic system. Great idea, poor execution. It seems to be a mix of sourcery and celestial magic. Some people have wands. And black and white magic are different. But nothing is explained. The magic doesn’t seem to have rules, and just feels very random to me. I just needed some explanation on what the different forms are and how it works. Some kind of structure.
Then the characters. Most other people seem to like them… I didn’t. And maybe I had wrong expectations. Had I known going into this that it would follow some high society people, maybe I would have liked them better. But as it is, they annoyed me. They gossip so much!!! And for some reason everyone is obsessed with babies and pregnancies. It has nothing to do with the story, yet pops up everywhere. Then there is the main character. Sure, she is strong and brave and does whatever she wants. She also isn’t a very nice person. For example, within a single chapter she states she doesn’t want to be in someone presence because of a disdain for how they dress, someone else is the most boring person ever (because he sells life insurance), the landlord is a horrible man because he actually makes them pay rent (I know shocking, and when they can’t he doesn’t kick them out but just moves it over to the next month instead), and when someone bothers to cook dinner for her, which happens to not be to her specific taste, she rather goes without food. She judges other people’s marriages and states that her’s is so much better because it is loveless which makes them stronger (and then they bicker for several chapters because they were hiding stuff from each other). Let’s just say she is not my kind of person…
The writing was okay… some spelling errors I am sure will be taken out before publication. But the world building is lacking. Like I said, the magic part of it is underdeveloped. But I also didn’t really get a sense of the time period. The interludes in which Hetty goes and frees slaves were very good. But anything in the ‘present’ somehow felt hollow. And then there was the pacing… this book was a very slow burn. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you got enough going to keep me intrigued (or love the characters). This should have been the murder mystery… At the point where I put this down (about 250 pages in), there were two murders and Hetty had been taken on another case as well. And we still have no clues, and no real effort has been put into solving any of the crimes.
Glover had a great idea, an unique premise and an interesting blend of genres. Yet it couldn’t keep my interest and I found myself not caring about any of it. I am sure there are loads of people out there who will love this, it just wasn’t for me.