#REVIEW: Queen of the Conquered, by Kacen Callender

I generally don’t write reviews of books that I didn’t really like. There are a couple of exceptions here and there, where I really hated something and wanted to let others know of said hatred, and at least one bad review of a book by an author I really like that has honestly gotten more attention than I’ve wanted it to. And while I certainly didn’t hate Queen of the Conquered, I didn’t like it very much either, but there’s enough about it that’s interesting that I’m writing about it anyway.

Let’s start on a positive note: this book’s struggles are all with structure and character, but the writing itself is of high quality. Feel free to take this review with as much salt as necessary, because the things that bothered me may not bother other people, and Callender’s skills as a wordsmith are above average. While I’m not certain I have any further interest in this particular series, I’ll be keeping half an eye on them in the future and I can imagine buying more of their books later on. And, again, the subject material and setup is pretty damn interesting; getting to a point where you’re writing a book I pick up is half the battle.

So, that subject: Queen of the Conquered is set on an archipelago that has been conquered and colonized by people who aren’t specifically identified as Dutch or maybe Scandinavian (the book isn’t set on Earth) but certainly scan that way, and the dark-skinned natives are held as slaves. The main character, who has several names throughout the text and who I’m going to call Sigourney for consistency, is half-native but because of Reasons is effectively a member– if a despised member– of the ruling, white-skinned colonialist class. She is also one of a smaller number of people, some colonizers and some colonized, who have what is referred to as Kraft and what are effectively (non-superheroic) X-Men style mutants, as no one’s Kraft works like anyone else’s. There’s a woman who can make anyone feel pain at any time, and a dude who can ask questions that must be answered honestly, and another who can create fear in other people, but no, like, metal skin or laser blasts or anything like that. Sigourney’s Kraft allows her to see into the minds of other people and influence their thoughts or sometimes take over their bodies; there are scenes where she is attacked and she fights back by sequentially taking over her attackers and having them kill themselves.

See the tagline on the book up there, “They will know her vengeance”? The basic plot of the book is Sigourney’s plan to be named as regent by the king of the archipelago and take over the islands, then to slowly destroy the ruling class from within, even though from the beginning all of them hate her– including a husband who she basically forces into marriage– and the plan is rather underpants gnomey throughout the book.

Spoiler alert: they will not know her vengeance, at least not in this book. They will know some vengeance, but it won’t be Sigourney’s; one of my major gripes with this book is just how passive she is throughout the book. She talks a lot about her plan to be named regent, but never really does anything about it, and the really weird thing is that throughout the book someone else is killing off a lot of the ruling class and while Sigourney is getting blamed for it by all the white people she doesn’t actually have any idea who is doing all the killing and spends good chunks of time hiding in her mansion and being worried that someone is going to cut her head off.

There’s a lot going on here that is interesting: Sigourney’s relationship with her husband, who hates her, and her relationship with her husband’s black half-brother, who also hates her (everyone hates her; be prepared for that) and the simple novelty of a book written from inside the head of someone who is of the same blood as all the enslaved people around her (many of whom are enslaved by her) and who is therefore despised by literally every other character in the book, even her closest allies, and who is trying to navigate the racism of those in her class and the (entirely reasonable) class-and-oppression based hatred of her own slaves– it turns out that “you look like us but are enslaving us anyway” is not a reason for people to like you– along with trying to bring her own plan to conquer the islands and free those slaves, but without anyone who she can confide in about that plan, because, again, everyone hates her.

(There is also a really interesting conversation where her husband’s half-brother, who, remember is enslaved by that half-brother and therefore by her as well, forces her to cut through the underpants gnomery of her plan and think about what she’s going to do with all these former enslaved people once– if– her plan works, and her utter befuddlement at the idea that she’d lose some of her privileges is really a thing to read.)

Figuring out who is doing all of the killing by the end of the book is an interesting measure of how much you buy into the racist structure of the world Sigourney lives in, by the way, and the fact that she herself doesn’t figure it out demonstrates nicely where in that structure she really thinks she belongs.

Ultimately I think the weight of all of this just became overwhelming for the author; this is a really interesting setup but it’s balancing an awful lot and the combination of narrative complexity with a fairly passive main character who can’t really talk to anyone so she just spends a lot of time thinking and reflecting and living in her own head– which is kind of boring, honestly– ends up really hurting the book. This was a three-star for me; not at all bad enough that I’d call it bad, as what it is is a novel with a lot of promise and some serious problems, but not good enough to really recommend it. If after reading this you think this might be worth a look at anyway, I’d go ahead and follow that impulse, but maybe try and get it from the library if you can.

Fuck the Iowa caucus

So here’s the thing: a few hours from now, or maybe a couple of days depending on how complicated things get, results will be released from the Iowa caucuses and someone– probably either a white dude whose name starts with B or Elizabeth Warren– will have won them. And that person will have just a smidge more actual delegates than the three or four people behind him or her, and all the press in the world won’t make a damn bit of difference to the fact that the actual delegate edge gained by this contest– y’know, the thing that matters— isn’t gonna be much of anything.

But there will be yapping, oh so much yapping, about What It All Means, and Bernie’s people will find a way the process was rigged against him even if he wins, and it all doesn’t fucking matter because Black people are the base of the Democratic party and right now no one and I mean no one has done a God damn thing to cut into Joe Biden’s huge lead among Black voters and unless that changes this shit is already all over but the shouting. And am I happy about it? No, not at all; with Kamala Harris out of the race I am an Elizabeth Warren man through and through, and Biden may actually be my last choice among the serious candidates (every time I try to think hard about whether I’d vote for him or Bernie at gunpoint my small intestine jumps out of my body and chokes me until I’m unconscious) but right now hard demographic reality is gonna make him the nominee unless something changes. Is that impossible? No. Does fucking Iowa have much chance to make a difference? Also no.

Fuck caucuses, and fuck Iowa. Caucuses, particularly how they’re practiced in Iowa, are undemocratic as hell and as wildly, painfully ridiculous a way for grown folks to choose a presidential candidate as they could possibly be. They disenfranchise old people, poor people, people with night jobs, people with children, people who don’t want the assholes who they live around to know who they want to vote for, people who don’t like spending hours arguing about politics in public with strangers, and no doubt a host of other people as well. They introduce a lovely veneer of social pressure into an event– voting– that is supposed to be private and secret. They are unnecessarily complicated. And Iowa is damn near as lily-white as it gets and I am sick as fuck of losing good presidential candidates– particularly in this cycle– because a state full of cracker corn-fed white hicks didn’t decide to get excited about them.

(Yes, I am from Indiana. When I get so fucking arrogant about Indiana’s position in the primary that I insist I should be able to personally shake hands with every candidate you can call me whatever the fuck you want.)

There needs to never be another Democratic Iowa caucus again– I don’t give a fuck what the Republicans do with their primaries– and Iowa needs to never again be allowed to be the first state to vote. Fuck New Hampshire, too, while we’re at it, but they don’t get as much attention and they’re not voting caucusing tonight so they aren’t what this post is about.

I fucking demand that the Democratic party come up with a fairer and more representative way to select our presidential candidates in the future. Caucuses are bullshit and the stranglehold Iowa has on our country is bullshit and I am fucking done hearing about either of them. Fix this bullshit, and fix it now. There are 50 Goddamned states in this country and I’m pretty sure you can find another one with fucking county fairs that also has some damn Black people in it. I won’t even fight you on which one so long as it’s a better choice than fucking Iowa.

Which, really, shouldn’t be all that fucking hard.

Happy Thanksgiving

So it turns out that the iPhone’s Portrait mode works really well on cats, too, to the point where I’m figuring the people who coded it set it up that way on purpose. Dude still doesn’t have a name. Ten minutes ago I thought he had a name, and was ready to announce it, but he does not. Soon, though! He’s ours legally now, and we’ve got an appointment to get him fixed on Monday, so he really ought to have a name by then. Yesterday was the day the fifteen-day hold officially expired, though, so he’s ours.

Maybe that’ll be his name. We’ll just call him Ours. Sure.

I do not typically have Difficult Family Holidays, and do not actually have the crazy racist uncle that so many of us seem to have to tiptoe around on the holidays– or, if I do, he’s made certain to never be such in my presence or at my house. I wanted to make a joke here, the first was about my mother-in-law and the second was about my sister-in-law’s husband’s vague resemblance to Saddam Hussein, but both of them are landing rather poorly so just pretend I said something funny here.

So while we’re splitting Thanksgiving over two days this year– the Electric Boogaloo version is tomorrow– neither should be especially stressful, especially since I seem to be using my lingering illness as an excuse to go Full Metal Masculine and not be helpful in any real way at all.

I’m going to have to cook the whole goddamn meal next year to make up for this year, is what I’m saying.

But: while still ailing, I remain at least nominally alive, which is still an improvement over earlier this week, and I had mashed potatoes today and did not deliberately eat myself into a food coma, which may be a sign that I’m getting smarter as I get older but is probably just a sign that I remember I get two of them this year. So now I get to spend two days stressing about grading and a day actually grading, and then there’s a two-and-a-half week run to Winter Break, and then I can fall into a damn coma for all anyone cares.

Which, y’know. That’s the dream.

More– possibly lots more– tomorrow.

Seven years ago

I’ve been thinking about Trayvon a lot lately, actually, although I admit I wouldn’t have known today was the anniversary of his murder without the Internet’s help. One of my 8th graders transferred to another school today– there was some sort of a kerfluffle involving DCS that I’m not privy to the details of, and Mom pulled him in retaliation for being reported. And the thing is, every time I’ve ever talked about or to this kid, I’ve thought about two other young black men: Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice.

I like the kid, a lot. He’s a Goddamn mess in a lot of ways, but he wasn’t ever mean, and that gets you a hell of a long way with me.  In a building that has more fights in a typical week than anywhere else I’ve ever worked would see in a month, I never once knew him to be violent towards anyone. Which is good, because at 14 he’s 6’3″ and probably around 200-220 pounds. The last time I talked to him, he was complaining about the fact that he still couldn’t dunk a basketball. He was close, he said. It was coming, he was sure. But he wasn’t there yet.

Here’s the thing about him– I gotta call him something; let’s go with Ben, which was Trayvon’s middle name. Ben didn’t always realize quite how big he really was, in a way that you can really only apply to fourteen-year-old boys who have tripled in size in the last year of their lives. He was a physical, touchy sort of dude– he was one of those kids who needs to be in physical contact with anyone they’re talking to, which meant he was constantly putting a hand on my shoulder whenever he talked to me. Hell, he hugged me a few times. I’ve been teaching for sixteen years and I can count the number of male students who have hugged me without a damn good reason on one hand.

And, again, he’s huge. 6’3″. And heavy at that height. And while, again, I never knew him to be violent toward anyone, he had a lot of trouble keeping his mouth shut and — as I said, in a way specific to fourteen-year-old boys — absolutely could not keep his body under control, in a way that I know good and goddamn well intimidated several of our staff members. Did he mean to do it? No, I really don’t think he did. But the same type of behavior from Ben that would be laughed off from a smaller kid got him sent to the office. Because he was huge, and black, and this is America.

And over the course of the, I dunno, maybe six months I’ve known him, I’ve genuinely lost track of the number of times I clamped my mouth shut and didn’t say you can’t be like this because eventually someone is going to shoot you to him. Because a cop took two seconds before killing Tamir Rice in what I will go to my grave describing as a drive-by shooting. Tamir was big for his age too. Because Michael Brown was described in frankly impossible, inhuman terms by the racist cop who murdered him, and Michael was big for his age. And because Trayvon Martin got shot walking home from the corner store because he was a young black man wearing a hoodie at the wrong time.

And because murdering black people is legal in Florida if you’re willing to claim you wuz skurred, but that’s another conversation.

I emailed a couple of friends I have on the staff in his new building. I didn’t really get into the details, but I told them he was a kid I liked and asked them to keep an eye on him for me if they could. I just wish I had someone I could email and ask to protect the kid. Keep him from becoming a hashtag until he’s old enough to have some sense. Keep him from becoming a hashtag after that, too, because black men get gunned down in this country every single goddamn day and having sense isn’t gonna protect you from the likes of George Zimmerman or Darren fucking Wilson.

Just … keep him safe, somebody. Anybody. And fix this broken goddamned country so that we don’t have to worry about this shit any longer.

GUEST POST: I Refuse to Apologize

Luther again: this is the second post that my student asked me to put up; as I said earlier, I thought the first one deserved to stand on its own for a bit before getting Bigfooted by this one.  Go read that first, if you haven’t already, then come back.


When the news about Jussie Smollett came out about a month or so ago, my organization, the Queer Students of Color, decided to post a fundraiser to raise money for queer youth of color that experience violence everyday. We wanted to so something while people were paying attention. 

We were fooled. And we’re not sorry for it. 

We’re not sorry for believing a victim. We’re not sorry that there was an example of hate crimes that finally gained mass media attention. The only thing we’re sorry for is that we were lied to by someone we thought we could trust. 

The fact of the matter is this: whether or not we were lied to doesn’t take away from the truth that is violence against LGBTQ+ POC. For that reason, the fundraiser is still on, and we’ll be advocating for it until we meet our $10,000 goal, and everyday after that. We are representatives of a community that is the one of the most vulnerable demographics in the world.

Jussie Smollett took advantage of the vulnerability of millions of people. He spit in the faces of trans women of color that have been murdered. He spit in the faces of Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean – stole attention from their story in favor of his own selfish goals. That enrages us, saddens us, and makes us even more passionate and dedicated to our cause. 

The Queer Students of Color is a collection of youth with the voice and power to bring attention to the very real fears of people that feel like they don’t have a platform. We are loving, caring people who want to use our intelligence and resources to better the world, so that we don’t have to live in fear any longer. Jussie Smollett spit in our faces. We are not ashamed, we are emboldened, and we will not stop our advocacy just because one person decided to do a bad thing. 

For those of you that feel like LGBTQ+ people of color owe you an apology: fuck you. The fact that you’re attacking us because we believed someone is just that – an attack. Why should we apologize to people that have always thought that we were predators, criminals, liars? Why should we concede to your twisted idea that we’re just attention seeking hypocrites? I’m most definitely not. I’m un-apologetically black, genderqueer and bisexual. If anything you should be apologizing to us for using the instance with Jussie to spew your homophobic vitriol. I have never had so many attacks on my character until I was accused of starting a fundraiser for the Trevor Project – a third party organization whose mission is to provide care to young LGBTQ+ people. The money never went into my hands, it will never go into my hands. The money goes to programs that want rights for LGBTQ+ medical insurance, for LGBTQ+ safe spaces, etc. Google is free, y’all. Use it. 

I’m angry, that much should be obvious. But I’m not angry at my own people, I’m angry that there are some saying “Ha! This is proof that those faggots are liars!” I’m angry that we’re receiving hate instead of support, when Jussie’s lie affected us more than anyone else in this country. That there are some thinking that this debunks all of the very real testimonies of violence that LGBTQ+ POC have finally had the chance to bring to light. I’m angry that straight cisgender black people are the main perpetrators of this awful, awful rhetoric. I’m so fucking angry that after this, people will feel emboldened to hurt us because they’ll feel like they’ll get away with it. 

I’m. Mad.