Published by Skyscape
Published on 1 June 2017
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Orphans & Foster Homes, Young Adult
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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.
In Emily R. King’s thrilling fantasy debut, an orphan girl blossoms into a warrior, summoning courage and confidence in her fearless quest to upend tradition, overthrow an empire, and reclaim her life as her own.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Because of the plot point of the king’s one hundred wives, I thought this book was based on 1001 Nights, so that’s why I’ve taken so long to read it. I didn’t particularly feel like reading a book like that.
However, I was wrong.
And while I don’t know the specifics behind what inspired the author, I can say that I really liked her melting-pot approach to mixing different customs and traditions to create her own world. I’m a huge fan of multiculturalism, and I love it when books like this and movies, like Moana for instance, don’t try to represent just one culture, but embrace differences between cultures, and take inspiration from a range of different cultures and traditions to tell a story that’s more original than sticking to the truth of retelling one culture story. So in King’s world, mixing these various cultures all together works well to present a fictionalised fantasy world that’s not based in the real world. I enjoyed that aspect.
I was a bit concerned that we might get a lot of girl on girl hate, since the entire premise centres around women fighting each other for the approval of more powerful men, but apart from one character – the one who had the most to lose, so I thought it believable that she instantly hate Kali – I didn’t really see a lot of girl on girl hate. I saw a lot of girls supporting each other, like Kali’s best friend/possible love interest Jaya, the mother of Kali’s (only acknowledged) male love interest, Deven, and several gossipy friends Kali made while at the palace.
Speaking of Kali’s love interest, first I’ll talk about the one that’s not acknowledged: Kali and Jaya have a very close friendship that never overtly stated they were romantic about each other, but I read it that way. They sleep in the same bed, and Kali’s main goal for most of the novel revolves around Jaya: freeing herself so she can free Jaya, getting back to Jaya, using Jaya as motivation. So while not technically a love interest, and never acknowledged as being lesbians, I definitely feel that this was more than just a strong plutonic friendship (which I am a big supporter of, so I don’t often read more into friendships than that). The main love interest Deven, the first man Kali ever lays eyes on, had zero chemistry with her, and together, Kali and Deven did really stupid things that seemed overly risky when Kali is the future wife of a powerful rajah. So you can see why I ship Kali and Jaya.
For your information, there is definitely no love triangle, whether it’s between Kali, Jaya and Deven, or Kali, Deven, and another male character introduced later on that some have suspected of developing into a love triangle in future books. Also, there is absolutely no love between Kali and Rajah Tarek. He’s besotted because she reminds him of his deceased first wife. She despises him. No love triangles.
I guess I kind of enjoyed this book, but it also frustrated me with some things that seemed inconsistent or just not thought out very well. Like, the wives and courtesans aren’t allowed in each other’s wings, but they sneak in there anyway and don’t get caught. The wives (or maybe just Kali) are guarded outside their door by men, and no one expects them to take advantage of this and act totally surprised when a wife runs off with a guard. There was a scene where blood was spilled on Kali’s bed, and no one would be suspicious of this? The rajah gifted Kali with a carriage, and then they have to travel through a desert. Not to mention that time after time, other characters all risked Kali’s welfare with little regard to the consequences.
On the other hand, Kali wasn’t stupid. She was actually pretty insightful, reaching conclusions quickly that other novels often leave pages and pages before characters join the dots and realise certain things readers understand instantly. Because of this, there was a revelation at the end of the novel that caught me completely off guard and that I really enjoyed.
While I won’t heartily recommend this book to anyone and everyone, I did personally enjoy it more than I didn’t.