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.
In Emily R. King’s thrilling fantasy debut, an orphan girl blossoms into a warrior, summoning courage and confidence in her fearless quest to upend tradition, overthrow an empire, and reclaim her life as her own.
Tremors rack my body. I cover my mouth, locking in a gasp. Rajah Tarek is here. The ruler of the Tarachand Empire has come to Samiya. I hold still, my flesh shivering.
I promised myself I would not DNF The Hundredth Queen. As I slogged through, wading across pages of murk and badly written metaphors, I thought to myself, “I’m almost there. The end is nigh. What is the point in dropping this book now?”
But I quickly realised that finishing this book was not worth sacrificing my sanity over. No siree. So it is with a newly-freed heart that I climb atop the highest tower and screech: I HAVE DNFed THIS NOVEL AND DAMN, IT FEELS GOOD.
The Hundredth Queen is easily summarised: a special snowflake with a mysterious, incurable illness is ‘Claimed’ by the Rajah to become his hundredth rani. Of course, our tstl heroine is aghast at the prospect of marrying Rajah Tarek and constantly complains about the unfairness of living in a lavish palace and being waited on hand and foot by people not so lucky. Throw in a tournament to become the ‘ultimate’ rani, and here you have every YA fantasy novel ever written. Ever.
Oh, not to forget the looming love triangle between a royal guard, Deven, and the mysterious bhuta who –surprise!– doesn’t actually want her dead, and I could most likely predict how the last 30% would’ve gone down.
I am the last wife he will ever claim, and he wants a warrior to defend her rank as his final rani.
This book is bad. Badly written, badly plotted and presented as a mashup of cultures that don’t fit well together. India is not a monolith. Repeat after me: INDIA IS NOT A MONOLITH. Whatever country you see, each part, each teeny-tiny segment, has a culture all of its own. Different regions may believe in the same religion, but they have their own legends and myths and fairytales. It bugs me to no end to see countries lumped together like a single entity. Look at the United Kingdom: Wales, England, Scotland, Northern Island — each country has different histories. They have their own stories to tell. Faeries are predominantly the most well-known legends for Scotland and Ireland (and even some parts of Wales) but goddamn, each legend is different.
Here is an author who did a lot of research, but obviously not enough, and ended up creating a huge salad of nonsensicality. I don’t understand the myth of Rajah Tarek and his 100 wives and hundreds of courtesans. The only reason we’re given is that the god Anu had 100 wives, and so to be close to him, Rajah Tarek must have 100 wives, too? It makes no sense. How about be a good king, and then your people will love you for that and not because you love to sleep with multiple different helpless women whenever it strikes your fancy?
The Hundredth Queen is badly written. It flows smoothly enough to show that it has been edited and revised, but there are still phrases that made me want to throw my Kindle into the toilet and flush it away.
He sets his tea aside and unbuttons the top of his jacket, releasing his neck from the strangling collar. [Page 110]
I breathe the steamy air into my pores [Page 123]
I follow a heartbeat behind, my limbs floating around me. [Page 135]
My cheeks sap of warmth. [Page 182]
Head, meet desk. You will become very well acquainted. Most of those sentences occur at least once every couple of pages, but I had to quit highlighting because it was becoming beyond ridiculous.
The romance begins around page 20, and is so obvious that it actually physically hurt to read. There is no chemistry between Deven and Kalinda, and it’s almost boring. I can understand Kalinda’s fascination, somewhat, with Deven. Living in the Sisterhood meant never seeing a man or meeting a man. If it hadn’t been for paintings of Anu, their god, I very much doubt she’d even know what a man would look like. Although the fascination is understandable, it’s ridiculous that she makes one embarrassing assumption and then it’s smooth sailing from there. It’s unbelievable, as far as storytelling goes.
But the romance. Ugh. It felt forced, lacked all warmth and empathy. Where are those beautiful, slow burn romances of yore? What happened to slowly building a relationship with the love interest? What happened to tension so thick you could cut with a knife? I used to love reading YA for this reason: the slow, slow build-up. The dramas and obstacles the characters had to face and defeat. The (always untimely) kiss to end all kisses. That is what romance is all about.
Yet, with Deven and Kalinda it’s love at first sight, lust at first breath, and awkward kisses from then on.
This is a man assigned to protect her at all costs, a man with a position and reputation to protect, and yet from the first day he does nothing to stop her, frankly embarrassing, advances.
My face warms. “Not all women have my temper, Captain.”
“Not all women wear it as well as you do, Kalinda.” [Page 71]
The hem of my petticoat rides up to my knees, and my backside presses against his hips. [Page 65]
If I were to sketch Deven’s heart, I would draw a labyrinth of secrets. A puzzle that I will not be solving tonight. [Page 53]
I did not think he noticed my moment of panic earlier, but I suppose he did. I accept his hand, and our fingers entwine. [Page 79]
I. FELT. NOTHING. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Niente. Every exchange between Deven and Kalinda had me rolling my eyes, sighing deeply and wishing for the whole ordeal to be over already. It was torturous. And it got worse when the second love interest was presented, or who I assume would become the second love interest. ‘Cause it ain’t a YA book without a love triangle, amirite ladies?
There is a subplot to the book once you read past the various tournaments to the death, the cattiness and bitchiness of all the other women in the palace (because of course everyone hates Kalinda and Kalinda hates everyone for absolutely no reason whatsoever) and it is, unsurprisingly, war. A war is brewing between magical entities called the bhuta, who want something that Rajah had stolen from them and blahblahblah. I’ve gone past caring, right into coma-zone.
I’m sure, with a bit more work, a bit more tidying up, this book would’ve been enjoyable. As it stands, it’s a case of ‘too many ideas, not enough room.’ This book is a Chosen One plot tied into a Hunger Games plot tied into a Rebellion plot tied into a Badly Drafted Romance plot and let’s not forget the Bargain to Tie All the Characters Together Forever plot. It can’t decide whether it’s meat or fish and frankly, it’s warm outside and I wouldn’t have minded some fish.
And with that, I shall conclude my first DNF of the year, and my first 1* rating of the year. I am disappointed, so I’m going to go watch videos of cute baby sloths on YouTube.
I received a copy to review from Amazon’s Kindle First program.
Edit: I realised after writing this review that, actually, I had already DNFed a book this year. I am still terribly disappointed.
Have you read The Hundredth Queen? What are some of your favourite diverse fantasy novels? Let me know in the comments below!