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'The Conductors' Is A History Buff's Dream Fantasy Novel

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

"The Conductors" is a history buff's dream fantasy novel. It is also a fantasy geek's dream history novel. Here's the setup. In post-Civil War Philadelphia, we meet Hetty and Benjy, a married couple working as conductors in the Underground Railroad, guiding enslaved people from the South to freedom in the north. Here, in this story, they use magic, though, to solve mysteries, murders and crimes involving Black residents that often go overlooked by local authorities. To take us into this world of "The Conductors" is the author, Nicole Glover. Welcome to the program.

NICOLE GLOVER: I am happy to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's something for everyone in this - magic, history, mystery, suspense. Walk us through this world that you created.

GLOVER: It's very much like our world, a little bit of our history. I did some research to make sure to get the history close as possible. But there is a layer of magic in there and mystery, of course. But the magic part was there to have some little fun but also to kind of exaggerate some of the things that are going on in the time periods and also kind of help me illuminate some of the Reconstruction era of the 1870s, of Philadelphia, and make it a little bit fun with a little bit - there's a little bit of magic in there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me about the magic. I mean, who does magic? Why is magic part of this story?

GLOVER: Everyone can do magic in this world. I always liked the idea that - a world where everyone could do magic, being it's something like a skill set, like an - like, something like arts, for example. And - because I always read all these fancy books. It's always like a small group of people. And it's like, you know, a few people. And I like the idea of what happens when everyone do magic.

And I kind of made different magic systems that different characters can use. The main characters work with what I call celestial magic, which is magic using the constellations as guidelines, basically. They can just draw all the constellations. And they can do their - basically, their magic spells come from that. There's other types of spells. Like, the more typical, like, you know, wand-waving, incantations, spell book sort of thing, that's sorcery. That's, like, mostly in the contrast because sorcery is, like, the Western Europe-style magic that came over that a lot of people can use. But celestial magic is the magic that came from plantation. It came over from Africa. It became a mixture of the different influences of the people that had been slaves. And they came - they created their own system of magic to work with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you choose this particular period in history?

GLOVER: I had always been interested in history. I grew up in Virginia, which is, like - every part of the state is covered in history. And I got drawn to the Reconstruction era because, in most history books, you might get a page, a paragraph, maybe two pages. That point in history, it's, like, very glossed over. And it's a very important piece of history. The more research I've done in the Reconstruction era, the more I've realized how important this time period is, how it influences things that we see to this day in our modern day-to-day stuff because you can change a lot of the articles, all the newspaper articles that was done back in the day - change the dates, change the names, and it's still very relevant.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You also delve into the dark history that is sort of, of course, very real. We get flashbacks to when Hetty was enslaved herself.

GLOVER: Yeah. It's one of those things I wanted to give some - give a sense of the backstory. But I didn't want to show it in the book's time period because I really was keen on having it more in the 1870s. But I did want to give insights of, like, what was in the past and what was going on in there. And at least in some ways, it's maybe a little bit of me showing off the research I did, of course. But it just - it gives a better context to certain things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. But I think it's also important, right?

GLOVER: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, in terms of delving into the history of that period to understand, you know, what really happened. I mean, when you take something like that, that is historically true and sort of give it your own twist, what do you want the readers to take away from that?

GLOVER: First, I want to make them curious about certain things I've mentioned, make them kind of compelled to maybe do more research because I don't - for some things, I'll give some detail into it but not too deeply to make it, like - because it's not a history book. It's still - I mean, it's historical fantasy. It's not, like, I'm going to read out bunch of history. But I want to get people curious. I want to make you think, oh, is this real?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your book addresses the relationship that Black characters have to law enforcement at the time. You know, Hetty and Benjy are often stepping in to fill the gap. And it is hard to ignore the parallels to this current moment.

GLOVER: It's one of those things that's been in my mind from the beginning, even before the conversation about the police and law enforcement bubbled over into more prime time in a sense. I started out this book knowing that they're going to have limited police interaction, that they're not going to trust the law enforcement, that the police adds another layer of suspension or intenseness to certain situations. In the history of policing in the U.S. in general, a lot of it traces its roots back to slave patrols and a lot of just enforcement of what later became the Black codes that came out more in the Jim Crow era. So it made sense for me that these characters would not turn to the police for (intelligible) for anything or that they would look for solutions for solving their mysteries that don't involve the police.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, this is a moment, obviously, when Black authors are sort of reimagining different genres and using history to kind of reinvent and spark conversations today. Where do you hope your book fits in to this moment and what you hope readers will take away?

GLOVER: I hope for my book to kind of have a different lens on the history side of things. I think there is a tendency to kind of overlook a lot of the Black American history, mostly in certain time periods because, I mean, there is a lot of topics that are sort of traumatizing people that - it's kind of hard to deal with. I know I got interested in writing "The Conductors" because I wanted to - because I got interested in the history. And I know a lot of - I started out some fantasy stories that are more secondary world. And I guess want to be, like, another take on like a what can you do with history fantasy. Like, it's OK to look into history for certain things. And you also shouldn't be afraid to, like, kind of mix things up a bit because - yeah, it's part of our history. It's part of our background. And it's something everyone should be able to explore.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nicole Glover's new book is "The Conductors." Thank you so much.

GLOVER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF IFA AFROBEAT FEAT. OKWEI V. ODILI'S "AFROFUNK REVOLUTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.