Callender’s Caribbean-inspired first novel for adults—a mix of fantasy, history, mystery, and palace intrigue—struggles to overcome its sluggish first half. Hans Lollik is an island nation populated by the white, sea-faring Fjern and the enslaved black natives, who are known simply as islanders. As the only black landholder, Sigourney Lund is seen as a traitor to her people for owning slaves and enforcing the brutal laws of their colonizers. Few know that Sigourney is the survivor of a massacre. Having hidden behind an assumed name and eventually ascended to the role of matriarch of the Lunds, Sigourney is finally prepared to take revenge on the ruling class that plotted her family’s assassination and have held the Hans Lollik islanders in bondage for generations. But the cost of revenge is high, and Sigourney’s bid for power leads her afoul of her fellow islanders, as she continues to own people even as she claims to fight for their freedom. Callender (This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story) convincingly illustrates the corrupting influence of unchecked power and privilege, but Sigourney is too passive; even after she begins her revenge scheme, events mostly happen to her. The moral complexity of the story’s climax is satisfying, but readers will have to be very patient to get there. Agent: Beth Phelan, Gallt & Zacker. (Nov.)
"A brilliant analysis of power and privilege set against an alternately beautiful and brutal background, you will root for Sigourney even as you question both her actions and motives. Searing and painful, Kacen Callender has managed to create a book that will stick with you long after the last page."Justina Ireland, New York Times bestselling author of Dread Nation
"Callender's heart-wrenching work is a story that refuses easy answers, trope saviors, or all-is-well endings. Lofty as it seems, if you imagine Hamlet and Agatha Christie's Ten Little Soldiers fused in a narrative that finds its soul from the pain of our cruelest histories, you'll have captured a piece of the powerful fantasy Callender has wrought in Queen of the Conquered."Evan Winter, author of The Rage of Dragons
"Queen is not a pretty story, but it's told in gorgeous strokes of color and emotion, rendering even the most disturbing scenes of horror and loss with haunting insight....It's a fine balancing act, and the book's absorbing setting, captivating lead, and relevant themes of race and class complement each other with alternating delicacy and savagery. At turns philosophical and feral, Queen of the Conquered represents the scope and spectacle of the fantasy genre with a vengeance.NPR Books
"Kacen Callender depicts colonialism, rage and the terrible price of power with haunting, unflinching eloquence. Queen of the Conquered is a heart-stopping masterpiece."Tasha Suri, author of Empire of Sand
"A fascinating exploration of how power corrupts and drives a person toward self-betrayal."Kirkus (starred review)
"Dynamic characters and rich, spellbinding action come to life in this epic story... It's a thrilling supernatural adventure."Woman's World
"An ambitious, courageous, and unflinching novel that uncovers the rotten core of our colonial heritage and yet also celebrates the fierce resistance and heroic endurance of the most abused and exploited."Kate Elliott, author of Black Wolves
"Callender's first adult novel draws race relations, conquest, magic, and politics into an imaginative, layered story that will keep readers twisting until the end. The author's personal experience growing up in St. Thomas lends to the rich setting and postcolonial themes."Library Journal (starred review)
"An utterly compelling look at slavery, power, and complicity. Uncomfortable, heart rending, and utterly necessary."Aliette de Bodard, Nebula Award-winning author
"From the very first paragraph, Callender's adult debut stuns. A complex and furious examination of colonialism, Queen of the Conquered is a storm of a novel as epic as Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo. I've been looking for this book half my life."Tochi Onyebuchi, author of Beasts Made of Night
Callender deftly handles the subjects of rank and racism, cruelty and privilege, while also providing an exciting whodunit in the fashion of Agatha Christie's classic And Then There Were None or the more recent Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn MuirBookPage
"Set against a lush Carribbean-inspired backdrop, this critical and multilayered story features Sigourney Rose, whose devastating losses compel her to risk her life fighting slavery and injustice and kick some colonizer ass in the process. This is resistance reading at its most entertaining."Ms. Magazine
"Gripping and emotionally compelling; a stunning novel about power, privilege, and survival in a world where you must fight even after everything has been taken from you. If you can only read one book this year, make it Queen of the Conquered."K. S. Villoso, author of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
"Queen of the Conquered is intricate, powerful, and brilliant, with vivid worldbuilding, compellingly flawed characters, and a plot full of exciting action and creepy twists!"Melissa Caruso, author of The Tethered Mage
"Sinks its teeth in early and forces the reader to confront privilege and revenge through an electrifying voice. With an unforgettable ending, Queen of the Conquered is one of the most refreshing fantasies you'll read this year. There is simply nothing else like it."Mark Oshiro, author of Anger is a Gift
Sigourney Rose is Elskerinde, head of Lund Helle island, one of the islands of Hans Lollik. Yet she is also the only survivor of the Rose family massacre, perpetrated by the same colonizing families she now moves among. As Elskerinde, she is viewed as a betrayer of the enslaved brown-skinned islanders, and to the pale Fjern rulers, she does not know her place. But Sigourney plays the long game, using her power to manipulate thoughts and control people, to get herself to Hans Lollik Helle, where the childless ruler will decide on his successor—and where Sigourney will find vengeance. There she will be trapped for storm season, and murder, power plays, and rebellion simmer into a perfect storm of their own and a battle for the throne. VERDICT Callender's (Hurricane Child; This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story) first adult novel draws race relations, conquest, magic, and politics into an imaginative, layered story that will keep readers twisting until the end. The author's personal experience growing up in St. Thomas lends to the rich setting and postcolonial themes. [See Prepub Alert, 5/5/19.]—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton
In a grimly plausible political fantasy-turned-murder mystery, a young woman faces the bloody consequences of her choices.
Centuries ago, the pale-skinned Fjern conquered a group of Caribbean-like islands and enslaved its dark-skinned inhabitants. The islander Sigourney Rose was the sole survivor of the slaughter of her family by Fjern conspirators resentful that her mother, Mirjam, a freed slave married to a wealthy landowner, was invited to join the king's inner circle of advisers. Resolved to revenge herself and to seize the regency, Sigourney poisons her cousin for his political position and uses her "kraft," magical psychic abilities, to manipulate the failing mind of an orchestrator of the conspiracy into making a match between her and the woman's son so that she will be of sufficient consequence for the regent to choose her as his successor. But once Sigourney reaches the royal island of Hans Lollik Helle, where the king will make his choice, nothing is as it seems. Someone is murdering the other members of the kongelig, the Fjern ruling nobility, and the king may be nothing more than a ghost or illusion. Will Sigourney survive long enough to achieve her goals? Where other authors might make a woman in Sigourney's position a freedom fighter, Callender's adult debut depicts a self-involved woman bent on personal power, with no clear idea of what to do with it beyond gain revenge. For someone who can read minds, Sigourney doesn't really understand people, or even herself, very well. She desperately wants the respect of the other Fjern even though she knows full well that their violent prejudice against her skin tone means she will never get it. She only ever expresses the most pinched and selfish forms of love yet wants the islanders to love her and understand that she's acting for their own good even though she actually does nothing for them, issuing orders to her slaves while ignoring them as people, somewhat reluctantly abusing and executing them, and associating with their oppressors. She feels a certain amount of guilt for her actions but not enough to stop her from acting. And despite her resentment at never being treated like an intelligent equal, she continually underestimates her fellow islanders, to her cost. Despite their grotesqueness and near absurdity, her hypocrisy and blind spots are totally realistic.
A fascinating exploration of how power corrupts and drives a person toward self-betrayal.