When Sigourney Rose grows up, she wants to be Queen—not because it is her life’s dream, but because she feels she must take over the islands of Hans Lollik in order to avenge her family’s brutal murders. Born into a society where the indigenous islanders are repressed and suppressed by their colonizers, the Fjerns, Sigourney walks a strange line between the two groups being pitted against each other. She is a kongelig, a member of island royalty, but she is the only one descended from the indigenous islanders. When the childless king, Konge Valdemar, announces that he is seeking a successor to the throne, and Sigourney receives an unexpected invitation to spend the storm season on the royal island of Hans Lollik Helle, she believes it is her fate to participate in the kongelig meetings and convince Konge Valdemar that she is worthy of the throne.
But Sigourney has several strikes against her, the most blatant being the color of her skin and her birth parents. She’s been using an alias, Elskerinde Lunde, her entire adult life to hide the fact that she is the sole survivor of the bloodbath that was her parents’ last night on Hans Lollik—a political murder and hate crime that the other kongelig plotted. She also possesses kraft, psychic powers that the kongelig believe should be only in the hands of the elite themselves, or, in rare cases, sacred slaves they have absolute control over. Any other islander found with kraft is decreed to be killed. The kongelig, including Sigourney due to her role as Elskerinde, take on this duty willingly. Sigourney desires the crown more than anything, but even she isn’t sure who or what she is doing it for—her slaves resent her, the kongelig are disgusted by her and she doesn’t quite belong anywhere or with anyone. When it becomes clear that something is very off about the puppet-like Konge Valdemar, Sigourney must face the truth that everything about her existence has been a lie, and come to terms with what the right and just course of action will be going forward.
Sigourney constantly questions where her loyalties lie, all the while trying to manage her kraft, which allows her to manipulate others’ emotions but often results in transfer of those emotions to her own mind. Callender’s other characters are equally multilayered and full of complexity: A strange newcomer to the Jannik villa during storm season, Løren, possesses both kraft and family secrets that deeply unsettle Sigourney, as well as the other kongelig. The storm season is known to be a period of untimely death, and when the kongelig in line for the throne begin to drop like flies in grisly killings, Sigourney must decide to stay and choose to save the islanders and kongelig from the abnormally evil power that has risen this season, or flee Hans Lollik with her life before it’s too late.
In Queen of the Conquered, 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 Muir. Readers will experience the same surprising waves of emotions that Sigourney is forced to endure from her foes, victims and potential allies as she navigates the islands that now seem so wrong to her, whose seeming paradise is actually a thinly veiled hell. Callender weaves an unforgettable fantasy plot that reads as fluidly as historical fiction, replete with a vivid, unique setting reminiscent of the Caribbean. Despite the genocide, racism and misogyny that Sigourney has witnessed and ultimately participated in, she faces the conquerors of her people with fortitude and pride in the face of indubitable hatred, and more determination than ever to make them pay for what they did.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Kacen Callender about Queen of the Conquered.