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Book Review: Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

Title: Queen of the Conquered

Author: Kacen Callender

Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date: November 12, 2019

Genres: Epic Fantasy

Shelves: Female-fronted, female-author

I actually finished Queen of the Conquered over a week ago, but it’s taken me some time to wrap my head around it and find my entry point into a review.

The first half of the book is an absolutely amazing work of colonial-inspired epic fantasy that hooked me in the first chapter and absolutely refused to let me go until I read just one more page. The setting was so original and so vivid, the characters so complex, and the culture-building exquisite. Unlike some reviewers, I would hesitate to say this is an epic fantasy about racism, but it is one where racism – not religion, not nationalism, not class – is the driving factor. Kacen Callender not only made me appreciate that issue in a way, perhaps, I had not previously, but they also made me feel it, to empathize with the treatment of the plantation slaves (or rebels, as the case may be).

My problem is that, once we get to the island and the novelty wears off, the book’s flaws begin to show. It’s an awkwardly paced book, one with long lulls between any significant developments, and one that never delivers on its early promise of revenge. It’s also a book that is marred by far too much exposition, much of which is the fault of Sigourney’s ability to read and influence minds. Time and time again the story is halted so that she can digress for pages at a time about an issue or a backstory that, while relevant and even of interest, is just poorly presented.

The second half of the book is also where the uneven nature of the world-building begins to show. While issues of race and class are well-developed, we know very little of the geography, the system of magic, or the gods who keep being mentioned. What started as an intimate island fantasy becomes a claustrophobic sort of locked-room mystery. I took far too long to read through the second half, and put it down in frustration more than once. My biggest issue with the book, however, is that I didn’t care for Sigourney at all. I understood – or thought I understood – her motivations, but her methods left a lot to be desired, and her inability/unwillingness to act on her desire for revenge left the book feeling sort of hollow.

In the end, I guess I admired Queen of the Conquered more for what it represents than I enjoyed it for what it was. I have no regrets for having invested the time to read it, and I would recommend it to anybody interested in an epic fantasy with a diverse setting and themes, but with the caveat that not all stories end the way we wish.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

Add yours

    1. I think it’s definitely worth a read. It does some things very well, and it is unique sort of fantasy, which is notable on its own. I’ll be curious to see what you think.


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