While idly scrolling through the huge ebook collection on my Kindle, the cover of this The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King caught my eye. I have so many books that the cover and title literally have to grab me because I have no idea what the books are about once I hit the BUY button. The red background and woman’s hand holding what seemed to be a glowing star looked interesting, and the title made me pause. What is The Hundredth Queen, I wondered? One hundred in a line of female monarchs? A gathering of many, many queens? I started reading. The beginning was promising—two girls fighting with staffs on a cold mountainside. It was written in the first person, so I assumed the eventual “hundredth queen” would be the narrator. She is not a good fighter, it turns out, and has to take medicine to fight recurring fevers, which has left her too weak to practice regularly with the other girls. Still, she is determined not to give up.
When wagons arrive at their remote mountain stronghold, the main character, Kali, despite being physically weak, has a stubborn and rebellious streak that is immediately evident when she spies on the newcomers despite it being forbidden. It turns out she is an orphan that had been sent to live in a convent, of sorts, with dozens of other orphaned or abandoned girls. Similar to convents, they are taught to be quiet, virtuous, and obedient. They are also taught how to fight with a large assortment of weapons. The reason for this becomes clear—all girls living in convents are subject to being “chosen” as soon as they reach the age of 18. They can be chosen by any number of men, from local landholders to guardsmen to the ruler of them all, the Rajah, and they can be selected as wives, concubines, or servants. I nearly stopped reading at that point from sheer outrage at the misogynistic system, until I remembered it was a fantasy novel and hoped Kali would be just as outraged.
The girls are pitted to fight one another by the newcomer, who is none other than the Rajah himself. The winner of the fight will become the Rajah’s one hundredth—and final—wife. Determined to avoid that fate at all costs (and also she’s a terrible fighter), Kali comes up with a plan that, of course, backfires and lands her in the very position she most sought to avoid.
The fight scenes in The Hundredth Queen are well written and engaging, as are most of the characters, and it’s refreshing to have nearly all of the fighting occurred between women. (And there is a lot of fighting!) The setting of the book is very interesting, with the convent having a Himalayan sort of feel with cold stone, craggy mountains, and snow, and ending in a sun-baked city reminiscent of the Arabian desert. There is also magic, which has a cool back story that gets woven into the tale so smoothly that the final plot line almost takes one by surprise. The world itself can be brutal and the author does not shy away from that.
Emily R. King does a great job with character growth in this book, not only for the main character but also several of the supporting ones, which is probably my favorite thing about the book besides the world-building. I’m looking forward to the sequel. An overall score for The Hundredth Queen, 4 out of 5 Bananas!
Characters: 4/5 – Story: 4/5 – Magic: 3/5 –Setting: 5/5 – Action: 5/5 – Pacing: 5/5 – World-building: 5/5