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In a grimly plausible political fantasy–turned–murder mystery, a young woman faces the bloody consequences of her choices.

Centuries ago, the pale-skinned Fjern conquered a group of Caribbean-like islands and enslaved its dark-skinned inhabitants. The islander Sigourney Rose was the sole survivor of the slaughter of her family by Fjern conspirators resentful that her mother, Mirjam, a freed slave married to a wealthy landowner, was invited to join the king’s inner circle of advisers. Resolved to revenge herself and to seize the regency, Sigourney poisons her cousin for his political position and uses her "kraft," magical psychic abilities, to manipulate the failing mind of an orchestrator of the conspiracy into making a match between her and the woman’s son so that she will be of sufficient consequence for the regent to choose her as his successor. But once Sigourney reaches the royal island of Hans Lollik Helle, where the king will make his choice, nothing is as it seems. Someone is murdering the other members of the kongelig, the Fjern ruling nobility, and the king may be nothing more than a ghost or illusion. Will Sigourney survive long enough to achieve her goals? Where other authors might make a woman in Sigourney’s position a freedom fighter, Callender’s adult debut depicts a self-involved woman bent on personal power, with no clear idea of what to do with it beyond gain revenge. For someone who can read minds, Sigourney doesn’t really understand people, or even herself, very well. She desperately wants the respect of the other Fjern even though she knows full well that their violent prejudice against her skin tone means she will never get it. She only ever expresses the most pinched and selfish forms of love yet wants the islanders to love her and understand that she’s acting for their own good even though she actually does nothing for them, issuing orders to her slaves while ignoring them as people, somewhat reluctantly abusing and executing them, and associating with their oppressors. She feels a certain amount of guilt for her actions but not enough to stop her from acting. And despite her resentment at never being treated like an intelligent equal, she continually underestimates her fellow islanders, to her cost. Despite their grotesqueness and near absurdity, her hypocrisy and blind spots are totally realistic.

A fascinating exploration of how power corrupts and drives a person toward self-betrayal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-316-45493-3
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Orbit
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2019