Series: The Hundredth Queen #1
Published by Skyscape on June 1st 2017
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Okay, so I have to admit that what initially drew me to this book were the first lines of the synopsis: “He wanted a warrior queen. He got a revolutionary.” That just screamed kick ass heroine to me so I couldn’t wait to dive into Emily King’s The Hundredth Queen, the first book in The Hundredth Queen series. The Hundredth Queen follows eighteen-year-old Kalinda, a sickly orphan girl who is a ward of the Sisterhood. Because she has been prone to fevers her entire life, she has not received much of the training that her fellow wards have received. This makes her a very unlikely candidate for the future that most of her fellow wards wish for – that of being ‘claimed’ by a royal family. Wards who are ‘claimed’ go on to become servants, or sometimes even courtesans or wives.
Kalinda is fully prepared to join the Sisterhood when the time comes and live a life of seclusion and prayer. In fact, she’d much prefer this over the alternative. When Rajah Tarek, who has the reputation of being a tyrant, comes to the Sisterhood looking to claim a new courtesan, as well as his 100th wife, Kalinda and her beloved friend Jaya conspire so as not to be chosen by Rajah. Their plan unfortunately backfires and Rajah chooses Kalinda to be his 100th wife, taking her away from Jaya and the only life she has ever known.
What Kalinda soon learns is that being the 100th wife means she must take part in a Rank Tournament to defend her place among Rajah’s other wives and courtesans and that the Rank Tournament is basically a fight to the death. Kalinda is horrified by the idea that all of these women are willing to kill each other just to improve their wifely ranking and is desperate to find a way out of her predicament, especially since she has no interest in being Rajah’s wife. Instead, she has fallen head over heels for one of Rajah’s guards, Captain Deven Naik. Kalinda wants nothing more than to find a way to escape her unwanted fate and be with the man she loves. Her best chance for escape comes when she learns that those fevers she has suffered from all her life are actually so much more than just fevers. Instead, they are a manifestation of a latent power she possesses but that the Sisterhood has kept hidden by dosing her with a “fever” tonic. Why? Because the power Kalinda possesses is forbidden and could mean death if the wrong people were to find out about it.
Can Kalinda harness this power while keeping it a secret from those who would harm her? And can she use it to escape this death match that Rajah has set her up for?
Kalinda was definitely my favorite part of The Hundredth Queen. I always enjoy reading about an underdog that I can root for and with her fevers and lack of training, she is immediately presented in the role of the underdog. As I was reading about the ‘Claiming’ process and seeing how few options women have in this society, I was completely turned off, so I found Kalinda very relatable as soon as it became clear that she felt the same way I did about the few choices women had. After seeing that all she wanted was to be able to choose her own path rather than have it dictated to her, it was that much more heart-wrenching to see her taken away and therefore separated from Jaya, who is obviously like a sister to her.
I continued to relate to Kalinda once she learned about the Rank Tournament and was horrified to find out what all of these women are willing to do to each other just to compete for Rajah’s attention. The treatment of women in the book is truly appalling, and Kalinda’s recognition of that, along with those first lines of the synopsis made me perk up once more: Is Kalinda going to be the revolutionary who changes everything?
As awful as the idea of the Rank Tournament was, I have to admit that the training scenes and especially the combat scenes in the novel are pretty amazing. Those wives and courtesans are not people you want to end up on the wrong side of. They are fierce and they’re willing to fight dirty to get what they want. Lakia, Rajah’s number 1 wife is especially vicious and I feared for Kalinda on more than one occasion because Lakia really seems to have it in for her.
Aside from a relatable underdog main character and some epic action scenes, another aspect of the novel I enjoyed was the forbidden magic. Those who possess the magic are called Bhuta and they are just fascinating. Rajah has had many of them killed over the years, but those who have survived are in hiding and hoping to find a way to strike back at Rajah. We don’t learn too much about them in this book, so I hope they will be explored in more depth in future books in the series. What we do know is that their powers appear to be elemental, based on earth, wind, air, and fire.
Even though I enjoyed The Hundredth Queen overall, I did have some issues with it. My biggest issue with it lies in the relationship between Kalinda and Captain Deven Naik. As soon as Kalinda and Deven see each other for the first time, they’re mutually obsessed, and for no apparent reason. For me, it just felt awkward and forced since there was no build up to it at all. It was 100% instalove, which never works well for me. What I also didn’t like though was the way Kalinda keeps putting Deven in compromising positions. She knows full well that Rajah will kill Deven if he suspects Deven and Kalinda are romantically involved, but yet she keeps talking to him in private and otherwise calling attention to themselves when they should be keeping a safe distance from each other. At one point she even kisses him where anyone could have walked in and caught them. I just didn’t care very much for her reckless behavior. Deven of course is equally to blame. If he wants to stay alive, he needs to stay away from Rajah’s soon-to-be wife. It’s not rocket science.
I honestly thought Kalinda had a lot more chemistry with a character named Brac. He is one of the magical Bhuta, and while I don’t want to say too much about him because of spoilers, he actually ended up being one of my favorite characters and I preferred his interactions with Kalinda’s to her interactions with Deven.
One other issue I had was that I didn’t have a clear understanding of the Rank Tournament. It didn’t make sense to me that these women were really willing to die or to murder someone else in order to reach a higher wifely rank or else to move from courtesan status to wife status. I would have liked more explanation about why these women were so eager to challenge each other and if there was some other point to it aside from getting more attention from Rajah. Speaking of Rajah, I also didn’t really understand why he was so obsessed with following some obscure legend step-by-by, especially since it meant his chosen women had to kill each other. Following this legend is why he instituted the Rank Tournament in the first place and it was unclear to me why it was important enough to him to warrant killing people. Those areas of the storytelling were a little vague and I would have liked them fleshed out more.
Even though I clearly had some issues with The Hundredth Queen, I still found it to be an entertaining read overall. I’m definitely invested enough in Kalinda’s story to pick up the second book.
As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she’s an unlikely candidate for even a servant’s position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood’s mountain temple.
But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda’s life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah’s ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik.
Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death—and her growing affection for Deven—Kalinda has only one hope for escape, and it lies in an arcane, forbidden power buried within her.