Adding magic to Underground Railroad (a system of secret routes and helpers to help slaves to escape to free states) conductors sounds like an awesome idea.
Main protagonist Henrietta wields powerful celestial magic, the zodiacal signs like Ursa Minor, the Swan, the Peacock, and others coming to live and causing magical functions. Back in the days, she and her pro forma husband Benjy jumped time after time into the South to help slaves on their flights. One other central motive of Henrietta is that she wants to find her sister like she found many other missing relatives from friends.
All that could have been a colorful, adventurous great story. Which is kind of included in the novel, because we get a glimpse at it in several short interludes telling the background story of Hetty and Ben. Sadly, the novel lost its way into a mystery story – which might be delightful for other readers but not for me.
Since a couple of years, Hetty and Ben weren’t involved in the rescuing business anymore. Instead, they investigate criminal cases in their community, because the police isn’t much interested in all the trouble of PoC areas.
Multiple times, it is said about the protagonists that they are such genius investigators. Which is hardly believable, given that they don’t know the essentials of their society, those big secret clubs. Add to that their complicated relationship where they simply don’t talk honestly and openly to each other, and you have an eight ball juggle that the author simply couldn’t win: find relatives, solve a murder mystery, win an illegal boxing championship, stay in daytime job, fall in love, sort out old friendships, discuss social commentary, and wield several forms of magic.
Add to this all the names jumping into the story, multiplied by missing relatives and ever more foreigners, and you’ll get a highly confused reviewer who often enough fell asleep in the dragging middle part, and wasn’t invested in solving the riddle anymore.
It was fun times whenever there was magic in the place, starting with protection spells weaved into suits, warming fourteen bucks of water for a hot bath, catching fleeing interviewees, plus some magic fights. Contrast that with boring discussions who could-have-done-it, and you can see that I’d really have loved the story of their adventurous past.
Recommended for readers of mystery romances in a historical setting, peppered with a strong female protagonist using magic.
Meta: isbn 9781529102079. Published by Del Rey at 4.3.2021.