TITLE: Wicked Saints
AUTHOR: Emily A. Duncan
SERIES: Something Dark and Holy
RELEASED: April 2019; Wednesday Books
GENRE: NA Fantasy
KEY INFO: Russian & Polish inspired, magic, gods, holy war, romance, morally grey characters
REPRESENTATION: bisexual male (main), lesbian (side)
blood, self-harm, torture, war, alcohol dependency, death, abduction, violence
Synopsis: 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 was lucky enough to be invited by the publisher, Wednesday Books, to take part in the Wicked Saints blog tour last week. As I had unfortunately not been able to finish the book in time for my stop on the blog tour I decided to give my thoughts as they were with the intention of writing a fuller review once I had finished the book. I named Wicked Saints as one of the best books of the year, remarked how much it had surprised me so far, and predicted that it would be a 5 star read.
So, did the rest of Wicked Saints live up to my expectations?
Hell yes it did.
My blog tour break-down of Wicked Saints included the following points, some of which I want to expand upon in more detail now I’ve finished the book:
💫 An immersive Russian & Polish inspired world complete with folklore, religion, magic system, names and language
💀 The amazing array of gods in the Wicked Saints pantheon, each with their own fascinating back story and colorful characteristics which we become familiar with via Nadya and the Codex of the Divine found at the start of each chapter
🗡️ A young cleric raised in a monastery who can speak to the gods, the Tranavian High Prince and his fearsome blood mage soldiers, and a boy with truly monstrous secrets who must try to suppress his true nature if he is to help turn the tide of the war
💥 A story which complicates the distinction between good and evil which provides morally grey characters who are forced into difficult situations and must continually challenge their values, opinions and beliefs
⌛️ Very reminiscent of other incredible novels such as The Bear and the Nightingale, Tempests and Slaughter, and The Poppy War yet manages to stand strongly on its own two feet to sweep readers of their feet
🔥 Sets my D&D Heart aflame
One of the things that stood out to me whilst reading the book and which has stuck with me since is the world that Emily A. Duncan has created in Wicked Saints. During my blog tour post, I mentioned some of Emily’s biggest inspirations were video games and Dungeons and Dragons and these are definitely inspirations that really jumped out to me whilst reading the book. As well as these inspirations, Emily A. Duncan used her experience as a librarian to track down Slavic folklore texts and you really get a sense for how much research went into this book through its world-building. As a history and anthropology graduate, there is nothing more frustrating to me than a world which isn’t believable and where it’s clear that an author doesn’t properly grasp or understand the histories and/or cultures that they are drawing on. I felt that Emily A. Duncan did a fantastic job at constructing a fully realized world complete with folklore, religion, magic system, names and languages which absorbed me into her world. However, it is important to note that Emily A. Duncan draws heavily from Russian and Polish cultures. As I am from neither of these cultures, there may be things that I didn’t pick up during my reading and I would love to hear from some Russian and/or Polish readers on their thoughts.
💀 That Boy is a Monster
Another thing that I truly loved about Wicked Saints were its morally gray characters. At the time of writing my blog tour review I touched upon the moral grayness of our characters but it gets so much deeper as the book begins to draw to a close. It was refreshing to read a book where characters actually change throughout the first book, rather than only including larger character arcs across a series. We see our main characters Nadya, a cleric who can speak to the gods, constantly battling against her doubts and decisions and the High Prince of Tranavia, Serefin, questioning his desire for war. There are countless secrets hiding away, waiting to be unleashed, and motivations which drive characters to make all kinds of decisions. We see a complication of good/evil through these decisions which bring unlikely alliances about, some more trustworthy than others, and watch how these unfold to have earth-shattering consequences.
On a last note about characters, can we also just talk about how Malachiasz is the monster boy who ate my heart?!
‼️ Tread Carefully
As Melanie pointed out in her excellent review of Wicked Saints, this is a dark book and I would also encourage people to read through the content notices before picking it up. Although Wicked Saints is advertised as a ‘YA Fantasy’ I would actually place it more in New Adult/Adult Fantasy category because of some of the content it deals with. One of the main magic systems is blood magic which is harnessed through the magic users using razor-blades or daggers to draw blood, something which is a major trigger for me personally. As Wicked Saints also depicts a holy war there is a lot of description of violence, torture, gore and death. Although it’s not quite as hard core as The Poppy War in terms of content, I would place it more towards TPW than I would towards Tempests and Slaughter, for example.
Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with a free copy of Wicked Saints via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my review.