ARC provided by Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review.
A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.
A prince in danger must decide who to trust.
A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.
Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.
In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.
I’ve been having difficulty forming my thoughts after finishing this book. This is definitely a quiet, slow-burn of a story. There is a romance, gorgeous writing, a unique magic system, and lots of dark politics.
Wicked Saints mixes politics, royalty, and godly powers. There are two rival nations: Kalyazin and Tranavia. We follow Nadya, a cleric who has been trained to communicate with a plethora of gods, wielding their powers through the touch of prayer beads. Then there’s Serefin, the prince of Tranavia but also a powerful blood mage. And then there’s Malachiasz, who, in my opinion, stole the story. He’s a rebel blood mage who allies with Nadya as they both flee from Serefin’s army. He’s the “dark and mysterious” type which immediately caught my attention.
While there are two POVs in this book (Nadya’s and Serefin’s) their stories cross early and soon Nadya, Serefin, and Malachiasz realize they all have the same goal: to dethrone the King of Tranavia (aka Serefin’s father.) Y’all, this is a very densely political book, where oftentimes I felt it overshadowed the magic system…
Which leads me to say that I wish Nadya played a bigger role. I expected Nadya to be the main character in this book, but instead she felt more like a side character to Malachiasz and Serefin’s motives. In fact, most of the time Nadya just went along with everything Malachiasz did, and I kept wanting her to unleash her fury. But instead, she dwindled into a naive love interest. She quickly went from being a character I admired to being one of my least favorite characters in the book.
I actually enjoyed Serefin’s chapters the best, because we really got to see and feel his horrible relationship with his father. The King of Tranavia is… how do I say this… a real piece of sh*t. He’s abusive and is totally fine with sacrificing his own family in order to possess the power of the gods. I also think Serefin had the most character development, and I loved his dynamic with his two guards, Kacper and Ostyia. I would read an entire book about this trio!
I wish I could say I liked Malachiasz. I did in the beginning, as he was low key reminding me of the Darkling from The Grisha Trilogy, but then I just stopped caring about him. He is supposed to be mysterious, so I am not going to say any spoilers, but I just didn’t like how his story played out. It felt really cheesy and there was no build-up to the finale.
I think I would’ve enjoyed this book more if we got to see more of Nadya communicating with the gods and seeing her use that power. She was a pawn in a man’s story, which just feels kind of bad. I was so frustrated during the last 10% of the book, but I am now high key needing the sequel ASAP!
I think the politics is super fascinating, and I adored how each of the gods Nadya communicated with all have their own personalities and quirks. The book starts out with a bang and while there may have been some issues with the characters for me, I felt like it had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Duncan’s writing is incredibly beautiful and creative. I am still genuinely impressed with how she built this world, and how she created each of the gods. This was some high-fantasy level stuff that still tackled important themes for a young adult audience, and I think so many people are going to love this book.
EMILY A. DUNCAN works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons. Wicked Saints is her first book. She lives in Ohio.