Queen of the Conquered – Kacen Callender

On the islands of Hans Lollik, Sigourney Rose was the only survivor when her family was massacred by the colonizers. When the childless king of the islands declares he will choose his successor from amongst eligible noble families, Sigourney is ready to exact her revenge.

But someone is killing off the ruling families to clear a path to the throne. And as the bodies pile up and all eyes regard her with suspicion, Sigourney must find allies among her prey and the murderer among her peers… lest she become the next victim.

There’s been a lot of conversation on both Bookstagram & Book Twitter lately around OwnVoices books, and why the ARCs for these books haven’t historically been made available to OV reviewers. There was a particularly notable discussion around Stephen Graham Jones’s upcoming release, The Only Good Indians (a book I’m going to read & review in the next couple weeks), and how Indigenous bloggers & Bookstagrammers had their requests for this book go ignored.

Clearly, some big changes need to take place in the publishing & book blogging world, and I certainly need to reexamine the way I request & prioritize books written by BIPOC authors and/or authors in the LGBTQ+ community.

I’ve had a copy of Kacen Callender’s Queen of the Conquered since before it was released, in November 2019. In and of itself, me being extremely late in reading & reviewing a book is not unusual (although it’s obviously not a great practice), but as I’ve said, it’s up to me to be more mindful, and to absolutely prioritize books written by folks in marginalized communities.

Queen of the Conquered is the first book in Callender’s Caribbean-inspired Islands of Blood and Storm series (I’m not sure how many books are planned) This first volume features Sigourney Rose as the sole POV character. When she was a child, her entire family was murdered by the colonialists of the islands of Hans Lollik. Sigourney escapes with her life, and, after assuming control of her family’s island once again, she begins to slowly plot her revenge.

To say Sigourney is a complex character is vastly underselling the point. Her motives are difficult to fully grasp at times, because as the only Black person in a position of power in these islands, her pathway to revenge is treacherous. The entire economy of these islands is built on the backs of Black people who are enslaved. Sigourney’s people. So while she too suffers from the cruelty & racism of the white colonizers, she is technically a free woman. And while it does seem as though her ultimate goal is the true freedom of all Black people, achieving that goal means participating in a system that enslaves, oppresses, tortures, and abuses Black people. Needless to say, Sigourney is not looked upon very favorably by her people.

The magic in this world is called kraft, and it’s frankly terrifying. Kraft manifests in different ways for different people, and it’s one of many tools of oppression for white people: any Black people who show signs of kraft are executed. Sigourney, ever the exception to the rule, can use kraft to read minds & manipulate the thoughts of others.

I don’t even know where to begin describing how powerful & complex Queen of the Conquered truly is. This is a magnificent book, and one that is unflinching in its portrayal of slavery & white supremacy. This is really unlike anything I’ve read, and I quickly fell in love with Callender’s writing. On a more surface level, it just feels really refreshing to read a fantasy novel that takes place on tropical beaches, jetties, and boats, as opposed to forests, taverns, and castles. But beyond that, with Queen of the Conquered, Callender is just fucking fearless. They are not trying to create a comfortable experience for the reader. This book goes to some very dark places, and asks some really difficult questions.

Queen of the Conquered fucking amazed me. This is a brutal, unique, and beautifully written book! King of the Rising can’t get here soon enough!

2 thoughts on “Queen of the Conquered – Kacen Callender

  1. Awesome review! This book sounds so good and I’m sad I haven’t gotten to it yet. I actually had a similar epiphany recently where it occurred to me how often I get ARCs of diverse titles by marginalized authors (like this one) and don’t prioritize them highly enough to get to them before their release date, and how *not* okay with this habit I am, and how much I want to fix it! I realized that, if I can’t help promote and hype these titles before they come out and get people to pick them up, I basically just have to stop requesting them, period. But as they say, once we know better, we can (and should) do better! ♥


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