I study the women closer. Most scars must be deftly concealed by clothes and jewelry and their long hair. But as I look, signs of their hard-fought battles become visible below this flawless veneer. I spot faint scars on arms and legs. Even the impeccable Eshana has a scrape on her back, seen beneath her blouse and extending down, disappearing beneath the waistline of her silk sari. A gong chimes across the courtyard. The ranis prop their weapons against the wall racks and then pass through a lattice archway bursting with vine flowers.
– The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King
The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King
The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King is a young adult fantasy novel about a young woman named Kalinda who has lived her entire life in a temple run by the Sisterhood, and has finally reached the age where she must participate in a Claiming, when wealthy donors come to the temples to select women for wives, consorts, or servants. To Kalinda’s surprise, she impresses the rajah and is Claimed as his hundredth and final wife, if she can survive the battles she must have with any of his courtesans who wish to challenge her for her position. She is not convinced, however, that she wants to be the rajah’s wife. The rajah is cruel and self-centered, and obsessed with the war he wages against the bhutas – the people born with the ability to manipulate the elements. Despite her wishes to remain in the temple, Kalinda travels to the palace to defend her position, while discovering some surprises about her own abilities and the conflict of the world around her.
This is the first novel in a series planned, and I have high hopes that King plans to further develop the Magic system in her next books because I loved the destructive power of the magic in this world. In The Hundredth Queen, we learn <spoiler> that burners, or bhutas who can wield the powers of fire, suffer extreme fevers as children and may burn themselves from the inside if not contained properly. It gave credence to the fear that many characters demonstrate around burners, because the powers are as dangerous to the wielder as they are to others. However, we learn very little about bhutas of other kinds, and I would love to see more on the powers as well as weaknesses of other bhutas. We also witness a ritual to confine a burner’s powers, without which he or she would likely die, and it makes me wonder what happened to burners before the ritual was developed. </spoiler> I can of course forgive these absences in the first novel in a series, especially given the overarching plot in this particular novel, but if they aren’t addressed in later novels I will be disappointed.
I was also a little disappointed in Kalinda’s characterization in The Hundredth Queen. Kalinda is noted at the beginning of the novel as having been a sickly child, poor at combat and having few friends – but this does not seem to be consistent in the rest of the novel. She is not seen as weak by anyone other than herself, she does not seem to struggle much in the fights against women much more capable than herself, and her time in a sick bed does not seem to have had any affect on her personality. I would have liked to see evidence of her illness in the way she views herself – perhaps more of a lack of trust in her own strength, trying to keep her potions close to her, maybe some more anxiety about her fevers, or going over the top to prove herself to the people around her. Instead, she seems relatively well-adjusted and physically strong.
The world development in this novel was quite good. Frequent references were made to Indian and Middle Eastern culture – the wives all wear saris, the king is called the rajah, and Kalinda is decorated in henna before her wedding. However, rather than being just ornamental, the rajah’s wives are all warriors as well, and this had an interesting effect on the dynamic between characters. I did wonder why, if they were so great in combat the wives still seemed so powerless in other ways, can imagine that forcing his wives to fight each other for their standings would keep them from banding together to overthrow the rajah. I have developed an interest in scars – how one’s scars might tell one’s history – and loved the idea that the rajah’s beautiful wives were scarred, sometimes heavily, from their battles.
I am going to rate The Hundredth Queen a 7 out of 10, because the novel had a great deal of potential for the first novel out of a series, and the things missing in this novel may be included in the books to come. I would definitely recommend it for lovers of young adult fantasy, and I intend to read the others when they become available. However, anyone that doesn’t enjoy that genre probably will not enjoy this one.