...the author wields revenge with supernatural skill ... Callender also weaves a vast, fictional backdrop that's based on the colonial history of the Caribbean, a refreshing break from the stereotypical, pseudo-European setting of most epic fantasy. But rather than scatter its narrative across numerous characters and points of view, Queen of the Conquered effectively concentrates its entire focus on one character ... Their worldbuilding is meticulous and immersive, from the texture of the foliage to the devastating backstory of colonization. But it's Sigourney's first-person, present-tense perspective that captivates most deeply. Morally conflicted and viscerally impactful, her voice is a thing of lean poetry ... Callender's masterful reveal of both Sigourney's inner turmoil and the magical world within her world dovetail beautifully ... it's told in gorgeous strokes of color and emotion, rendering even the most disturbing scenes of horror and loss with haunting insight.
Callender’s prose style is sharp and unflinching, with sinuous shifts in point of view that give this book a fierce, unsettling elegance ... forces us to see and experience the settlers as whole human beings, full of longing and disappointment and love and fear, but always in the context of the fathomless evil they’re engaged in, benefit from and perpetuate; second, it echoes the very real ways in which abused and marginalized people have to empathize with their oppressors in order to anticipate their actions and ensure their own survival ... While this approach makes for an engrossing and powerfully disturbing reading experience, it obscures Sigourney as a character, and occasionally makes it difficult to reconcile her voice with her behavior. Her actions are sometimes baffling, lacking a motivational throughline; at one point I wondered whether she’d simply forgotten the information she’d conveyed to the reader in order to arrive at a different, more plot-convenient conclusion. There’s also a narrative-upending twist toward the very end of the book, which, though I cheered, I was unconvinced by; it needs a lot of propping up after the fact in ways that don’t quite stand up to storytelling scrutiny, though it does make the sequel a much more thrilling proposition ... That aside, Callender’s debut is tautly written and beautifully realized, and deserves to be ranked among the year’s most ambitious and provocative.
Callender’s fantasy world is unique but familiar, with kingdoms to the north, west, and east, each with varying degrees of slavery, abolition, and culpability ... Too often, stories about racial violence and slavery break people into white and POC, colonizer and colonized. With Sigourney and Løren, Callender explores the in between. Sigourney is both colonized and colonizer ... As much as Sigourney considers herself a keen strategist, she is in truth frustratingly passive ... makes for an occasionally challenging read. As a reader, I want to delve into the mysteries, not hang around their edges. The result is teasing a mystery then denying the reader the opportunity to solve it ... Fortunately, that was the only element I struggled with. Everything else was nothing short of remarkable ... it absolutely must be read.