The Hundredth Queen was one of the options for Kindle First a few months ago, a program where Amazon Prime members can get a free copy of a book each month. Fantasy books are pretty rare in the First selections, so I jumped at the chance to get this one. Plus, just look at that cover--so gorgeous. And the premise, about a young woman torn from her convent home in order to become the hundredth wife of the rajah of her country, and who hides a secret power, was just too good to pass up.
The thing is, the book doesn't really deliver on its premise. Our main character, Kalinda, doesn't learn about her abilities until relatively late in the book, though clearly the reader is clued in much earlier than that. Additionally, the idea that Kalinda is going to have to fight for her throne and her place among the rajah's other ninety-nine wives and his many courtesans isn't really played out in the way that seems promised, either. And finally, I wasn't convinced about the world building. We learn partway through the book that many of the things we think are true are not, and have actually only come to be the way they are in the past two decades because of actions of the rajah. I can totally buy Kalinda not knowing this--she was raised in a very secluded place, taught certain things by a select group of people who were forced into that way by benefactors who would have otherwise withdrawn their support. However. The entire country seems to have suddenly forgotten the way things used to be, and don't even whisper about it. The only group of people who seem to remember are blatant rebels. There are apparently only two camps here: totally fine with things or in outright rebellion, which seems quite unlikely to me.
But there were things I liked about this. I found the culture interesting; the religion is apparently loosely based on that of ancient Sumeria, and I found the concept of the wives, the rank tournaments, all of that so intriguing. A fantasy that's not based around a traditional medieval European setting, while becoming more common, is still very refreshing to me. Additionally, there (presumably) aren't any white characters in this! Yay for diversity! And finally, even though the premise of the book revolves around women fighting each other for their places at the whims of men, there are still strong female friendships here. Kalinda has a best friend present throughout the book, and even though a few rivals emerge once she's in the palace, other women present themselves as friendly and some who are are initially enemies ultimately come to her side. It was so nice to not see women constantly clawing each others' hair out over a guy...even if there was a snake in Kalinda's bed at one point. Ah, well, I guess you can't win them all.
Overall, I think this had an interesting premise, but King got too invested in a side romance than in what could have been Kalinda's growth and fight for her place in an unfamiliar world. The writing is okay, but there are gaps in the world that shouldn't have been there and overall this just wasn't as robust as it could have been. Not sure I'm intrigued enough to read the others in the series.
2 stars out of 5.