Review: The Hundredth Queen (The Hundredth Queen #1) by Emily R. King

Author: Emily R. King
Publisher: Skyscape
Publication Date: June 1st 2017
Source: ebook (bought)


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.

Kalinda is an orphan girl that was raised in the Temple of Samiya, a temple of the Parijana faith. Long ago, the land-goddess, Ki, instituted that temple as a refuge for female orphans, ranging from infants to young women, cared for by the sisters devoted to the faith. The temple teaches these girls the art of fighting as well as educating them in the liberal arts.
One day, one of the temple's benefactors comes to claim a ward, which he can do, since the patrons support the temple's activities, he can claim any girl either to be his servant, courtesan or wife. Kali is very worried that her friend Jaya will be chosen since she is very afraid of men. They must demonstrate their strength and tenacity in battle by duelling against each other. This also worried Kali, since she has been a sickly bedridden child all her life, assailed by dangerous fevers, she and Jaya plan to lose so they can remain together.
Instead of things going to plan, Kali ends up being chosen to be the benefactor's wife, Rahjah Tarek's hundredth rani and her bully Natesa is chosen to be one more of his concubines. When the Rahjah leaves the captain of the Royal Guard, Captain Deven Naik, stays behind to take both girls back to the capital and they depart on the dangerous journey to get there. Kali as never left the Temple and she got there as a baby, she had never even seen a man, and now she is supposed to marry a vile and ruthless ruler. Magical forces and political cunning are needed as she gets closer to Captain Naik and each time more scared of her future husband. Now, as it is tradition, she must compete in a Rank Tournament against the Rahjah's other wives in order to defend her position as a future Rani. Will she survive?
This is a book that was written with the clear intent to be the first in a long series of books, as of now, this series has a total of four books. As a result, this is a book that mainly works as the introduction to the main plot. Interestingly, the author was able to insert an interesting and complex subplot within this book, which makes it interesting and enjoyable on its own. The reader is introduced to a wide range of characters and, slowly to their personal motivations and characteristics, without any "info-dumping" occurring. This slow burn contributes to the continuance of the series, the reader does not know everything by the end of the book, he needs to continue to read the series in order to find more about these characters.
There is a romantic aspect to the main plot of the story, which the reader can clearly identify almost immediately from the first page of the book. Honestly, not that it is not a nice relationship but it feels a lot like the famous "insta-love" trope. Personally, I am very gullible in everything that has to do with romantic relationships, I love love and I love loving love, but it feels quite rushed even to me. If the relationship started more naturally it would contribute to the general quality of the plot. I really do not support falling madly in love with the first male human you see in your life.
However, there is also a very strong female character in Kali. She shows just how astute and strong a woman can be when put in a difficult situation, leaning on others when she needs but without losing her inner strength, resilience or independence. I love stubborn characters and Kali is certainly one, but she is as stubborn and cunning as she is sensible and concerned with others. I believe Kali is a great example of the hero's journey construction of this plot, with some subversions in the middle, which I wholeheartedly support.
I cannot attest to the representation of the "oriental"* cultures within this book, I do know that the faith and cultural elements were inspired by real ones. This means that, at least in my head, these characters are not Caucasian, which something I consider very positive. I love how the author mixed the ethereal religious feeling of "oriental" religions with elemental magic and badass women with amazing fighting skills.
Overall, this is a good book as a launching pad for the rest of the series. I was unable to put it down and had to immediately get the sequel so I could know what was going to happen next. There are no graphic sex scenes in the book but there is a lot of implied sexual violence and tension. There is also some description of physical violence, but not without context or meaning to the story, this is not at all a gory book. I advise this book to everyone, it is indeed a great read.

*oriental - I really hate using this word. Ever since I read Edward Said's Orientalism I have not been able to look at it any other way than a generalising and inaccurate social construct (it is a really interesting book, totally advise you to check it out). I am only using it because I am cannot find a better word.

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