I was unbelievably excited for Kacen Callender’s adult fiction debut, Queen of the Conquered. Having read This is Kind of an Epic Love Story before I wanted to fall in love with Kacen’s characters and world. However, Queen of the Conquered didn’t thrill me as much as I wanted.
An ambitious young woman with the power to control minds seeks vengeance against the royals who murdered her family, in a Caribbean-inspired fantasy world embattled by colonial oppression.
Sigourney Rose is the only surviving daughter of a noble lineage on the islands of Hans Lollik. When she was a child, her family was murdered by the islands’ colonizers, who have massacred and enslaved generations of her people—and now, Sigourney is ready to exact her revenge.
When the childless king of the islands declares that he will choose his successor from amongst eligible noble families, Sigourney uses her ability to read and control minds to manipulate her way onto the royal island and into the ranks of the ruling colonizers. But when she arrives, prepared to fight for control of all the islands, Sigourney finds herself the target of a dangerous, unknown magic.
Someone is killing off the ruling families to clear a path to the throne. 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.
While I absolutely loved the subject matter of this book, an #ownvoices fantasy inspired by the Dutch colonialization of the Carribean, Queen of the Conquered was difficult for me to get through. Queen of the Conquered is a story about Sigourney, a native Islander who schemes her way, partly using her magical kraft, into the ruling colonizers. Because of this, she partakes in the enslavement of her own people which is one of the central conflicts of the book. Driven by her revenge, how can Sigourney rationalize her own actions given what she chooses to do for vengeance.
Sigourney is seen as a traitor by the islanders and looked down upon from the ruling elite. Queen of the Conquered is a dense novel. There is so much more telling than showing and much less dialogue than the other books I’ve been reading recently. Because of that, Queen of the Conquered felt difficult to wade through. We were told often what Sigourney was feeling, but it lacked the emotional pull to either endear Sigourney to us, but also to make me understand Sigourney.
Even though Sigourney is completely alone in Queen of the Conquered, lacking real friends or family, I had a hard time feeling bad for her. She’s trying to convince people she’s worth of respect, of power, trying to take back the power that has been denied to her, but there were just certain plot elements that didn’t make sense to me. Callender does a great job of world building, transporting us to this time period of oppression and dangerous powers. The scenes where the slaves realize that they don’t own their own bodies, not only in the literal sense, but even what they are forced to do, broke my heart. Slavery has taken both their opportunities for love and freedom.
Queen of the Conquered is a story of revenge, retribution, and justice, but, for me, I wasn’t able to fall in love with the story because of my inability to understand Sigourney sometimes. I am really quite sad that I didn’t love this book because the premise sounds amazing and the world building was fantastic, but it was difficult for me to finish. Find Queen of the Conquered on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound & The Book Depository.