Other categories: Protagonist of Colour, Small Publisher
“When the Sultan has arrived and is at ease, ask that I tell you a story. Do you like stories?”
Dunya is just fifteen years of age when her father, the Grand Vizier, gives her over to the mad Sultan for his bride. Ninety-eight Sultanas before Dunya have been executed, slaughtered at the break of dawn following their first night with their new husband. But on her own wedding night, the ninety-ninth bride finds help from the mysterious and beautiful Zahra, who proposes to tell the Sultan a story…
The Ninety-Ninth Bride is set out in the style of a fairytale, which lends the whole thing a sense of nostalgia, even for one such as myself who wasn’t originally familiar with the source text of One Thousand and One Nights.
King puts an interesting turn on the female characters in this story, making the Scheherazade-equivalent–Zahra–a mysterious and mystical figure who appears to aid Dunya who, unlike her version in the source text, is the one who is supposed to marry the Sultan rather than Scheherezade/Zahra, who in this version pretends to be the intended bride. The use of the veils they already wore in public helps them fool the Sultan. Whereas the 1001 Nights version of Dunya is Scheherazade’s actual younger sister, this version of Dunya simply plays the part of Zahra’s sister while Zahra works to protect her from the Sultan’s plans to kill her like the previous ninety-eight brides before her. Dunya’s role in starting the stories off is much the same, in both the older text and King’s version, it is Dunya asking her “older sister” to tell a story that starts the the cliffhanger storytelling trick they drag out for those 1001 nights.
What King does to flesh out both Zahra and Dunya’s characters was quite fascinating, especially the mystery of who exactly Zahra was and why she had shown up to help Dunya in her hour of need. I must admit the twist near the end of the story almost had me yelling out loud because it was that. freaking. awesome.
The Ninety-Ninth Bride is a fun, quick read that focuses on the concept of sisterhood rather than redemption for a wicked person, which I found quite refreshing. The author’s note King included at the end of the Kindle edition I read also had some interesting insights about where she was coming from while writing this story, and, along with some googling on my part, certainly helped me understand the context which I had initially lacked.
EDIT: Forgot to mention this book marks the final square I needed for #DiversityDecBingo. I ended up using this as my non-western cultural fantasy square instead of Labyrinth Lost as originally planned.