Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review - The Hundredth Queen

Original Title: The Hundredth Queen
Series: The Hundredth Queen, #1
Author: Emily R. King
Published: June 1st, 2017

Publisher: Skyscape

I don’t usually read new releases, given my long, long list of to-read titles; I normally go for one of them, but this book was fixated in my mind for some reason, and honestly, I needed a good dose of fantasy after so many books about Regency England in a row. I have to say that I liked it, but I didn’t love it, for several reasons.

For starters, a good aspect. The worldbuilding is definitely different from the usual, because it’s not based on Europe, but on India, with everything it implies: names, society, clothing, food, traditions... It’s a good change, it breathes originality into the story and the genre. However, it fell short, because that same originality opens up a lot of possibilities to know new places in the world that’s being built, but this story doesn’t take place outside the Turquoise Palace in Vanhi, and Samiya, where Kalinda lives with the Sisterhood. On the other hand, I’ve seen reviews criticizing the mistakes on recreating India, especially on the fact that India is not a monolith, but I won’t delve into that because I’m not qualified to judge, as I’m not an expert on Indian culture and history. I’m just going to say that the author’s research, if not enough, at least it is visible, and even though there are mistakes in the accuracy, I feel like I have to say this: Tarachand may resemble and be based on India, but it’s not India, so the author was in her right to take liberties and throw her own spin on the world she created.

As for the protagonist, the orphan, eighteen-year-old Kalinda, I liked her, and I want to know how her story will continue, even when she seemed a little dumb at times. However, I went to this book looking for originality in the storyline and characters, and I stumbled upon a not very extraordinary MC. Her type seems to be a theme in YA books, as she is this low-profile kind of girl, with no remarkable beauty or talents, that manages to attract a rich, powerful, handsome man for no reason, who obsesses over her, and, by the way, already has hundredths of other women, both wives and courtesans, that, of course, are a lot more beautiful and talented than her, not to mention experienced and dangerous fighters that could easily kill her in combat, in the blink of an eye. The man could have anyone, as he is the rajah, but chooses her, among all women at his disposal… Right. It’s not badly done, but it has been read before, lots of times, and it cuts the originality a little bit.

And the romance…! Oh, my good Lord, the romance! Can we please talk rant about it? Normally, it is my favorite part in a novel, but here, it was the worst, and it got ruined as soon as it started. It was the worst case of insta-romance I’ve ever read, and not once it stopped feeling forced and unrealistic. It was bad for several reasons: everything happens way to soon and for no reason, I mean, Kalinda –just like most of the girls in Samiya– never saw a man in her life, but one glimpse, and she’s lost? Literally, it is one look, as she sees Captain Deven Naik from afar, as a part of the rajah’s entourage, and notices how handsome he is, which is ok, but jumping from there to love is all sorts of wrong. I think the author tried to show the spark between them, but she didn’t do it right, because Kali and Deven didn’t have enough encounters and conversations for me to say “yes, I want them to fall in love”. They don’t know each other! Their dialogue is poorly written, and I was never given a reason to root for them, as I couldn’t understand their attraction. Suddenly, they are madly in love, but I can’t see what they even like in each other, especially because he tells her that he fell in love with her since the first moment he met her in Samiya, and she liked him since she first spied him from the temple. And their kiss! It happened too soon, way before I had the time to start rooting for it! It really bothers me when the characters aren’t evenly matched, and I can’t explain their chemistry and their love. I just don’t buy that suddenly they can’t resist the pull to each other. And of course, as it never fails, this was another story in which I was not saved the trouble of reading about one of them, in this case Deven, saying, over and over again, that nothing should be happening between them, because she’s the Viraji, the rajah’s betrothed, and so on… It’s true, but, oh, my God, we get it! Please, talk about something else! 

Phew, that feels much better! Moving on. During the whole book we get to know more about the main villain, Rajah Tarek, which is well done, as I got to hate him. Power, greed and lust rule his life, as he has all those women for both pleasure and might, wanting to equal the gods. But later we find out that, although he wants many, he loved only one: Yasmin, his first wife, and he plans to bring her soul back to occupy Kalinda’s body as his hundredth wife. So far, so good. I credit to the author that I was very surprised by the plot twist of Yasmin being Kalinda’s mother, I honestly admit that I didn’t see it coming, and it left me with my mouth open. But… *deep breath* Kalinda isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. She had previously found out that Yasmin, being married to Tarek, was in love with Kashin, who was a bhuta, someone born with powers and control capacity over one of the elements, in this case, fire, which makes him a Burner. From the bhutas’ very first appearance, we know that Kalinda has fire in her, and we are able to connect that with the fevers that plagued her since forever. She even admits to herself that she’s a bhuta, which means a pariah, an enemy of the Rajah, and later, when she finds out Yasmin was her mother, I just can’t believe she still doubted her father’s identity! I mean, come on! Can’t you just connect the dots? It’s there, right in front of your nose! Yasmin was a regular woman, and your father was a Burner, you have power over fire, and you still think Tarek could be your father?? *Eye roll* I can’t. No. Just no.

As for the other characters, I’ll go by the most relevant ones. Lakia –Tarek’s first wife and Yasmin’s sister– is also a villain, but I didn’t hate her, although she was violent and vengeful, I rather pitied her, because no one ever loved her, she always had to share her husband with other women, knowing he never stopped loving her dead sister, even after two decades. She’s well written, and I was sorry to see her dead, because she made a really good villain that could have gotten better in the future. As for Natesa, the girl chosen along with Kalinda to become a courtesan, at first, I didn’t feel anything in particular for her, but I was surprised to discover that I had grown to like her, and I want to read more about her, to see how her story plays out now that she’s free. As for Jaya, there we are talking about pain! I was really sorry to read her death, but I would have loved to know more about her before that, because I can’t feel anything for a character I don’t know, and there’s nothing more than what Kalinda tells us about her in Samiya. As Kali’s voice of reason, Jaya had lots of possibilities for character development, she seemed very interesting, and I would have loved some deepening on her story before losing her, but I guess Kalinda needed that final trigger to stand up to Tarek, keep fighting, and fulfill her deal with the bhutas.

Honestly, I was not particularly eager to read about Kalinda and Tarek’s wedding night, as he was such a disgusting character, but I found original the way to kill him, instead of poisoning his drink, or a stab in the heart, as I was expecting. It wasn’t exactly enjoyable, we are talking about a murder, but still. And… well, I feel like I have to mention this. On their way to Vanhi, Kalinda and her guard meet this old couple on the road that give them food as a way to honor her as the Viraji, and later, they come back to see her in the tournament, but nor them or their scenes serve much of a purpose. Their return could have been easily cut from the book, as it is useless for the plot, because, if at least Tarek had used them to threat Kalinda, like “they will pay if you don’t do as I say”, that would have been something worthwhile, but no. They just appear, nothing comes of it, and they never show up again, so… why are they there in the first place?

Even so, it wouldn’t be fair if I don’t say that this book had good things. I ended up really interested in bhutas, as I like elemental powers in fantasy, and I’m curious about what they can do with them. Also, the tournament scenes are fast-paced and got me at the edge of my sit (though they made me think more of Rome and gladiators than of India). And finally, as I have probably mentioned before, I’m a fan of all kind of costumes, and I particularly enjoyed those brief but wonderful descriptions of clothing (especially Kalinda’s tournament and wedding saris), jewels, and weapons. I could truly see the locations the author painted for us, it was great.

So, in short, this isn’t exactly the best book ever, nor the first to grab me with a beautiful cover and an interesting blurb. It has a lot of flaws, and it’s clear that it is a debut novel. Yes, I will give the series one more chance, reading the next installment, although the promise of a love triangle isn’t the most appealing thing in the world, after that horrible insta-romance. I hope it gets better, though! Crossing my fingers!


Post a Comment