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.
Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan is the first book in the Something Dark and Holy trilogy. It was published by Wednesday Books on April 2nd 2019. I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger warnings; violence and war themes, self harm for the purpose of blood magic, mentions of torture, child abuse, alcoholism.
The blurb of this book made it sounds like my kind of read, there were plenty of people really excited for the release of Wicked Saints and the early reviews were positive so I was kind of disappointed I couldn’t rate it higher than I did. When I got into the story I really enjoyed it, the characters were well-written and developed, the world building was incredibly detailed, and the story had high-stakes, the problem was how long it took me to get into the story.
“You could be exactly what these countries need to stop their fighting,” he said. He dropped his hand and she was colder for its absence. “Or you could rip them apart at the seams.”
The countries of Kalyazin and Tranavia has been at war for centuries. Nadya has been hidden away, protected in monastery and dedicating her life to the Gods plans for her. As a cleric who can speak to not one God but all of them Nadya knows that one day she will be the key to turning the war in her countries, but when the monastery is attacked by High prince of Tranavia, a powerful blood mage determined to eradicate the Gods presence in Kalyazin for good, Nadya is forced to flee.
When Serefin realises the cleric he sought to kill has escaped he wants to chase after her, but the High King suddenly calls him back to Tranavia, sending the Vultures after Nadya, and Serefin worries about his father’s true intentions for bringing him home. Meanwhile after Nadya realises how quickly her country is falling to Tranavia she finds herself entering into an uneasy alliance with a couple of Akolan runaways and a Tranavian defector hoping to kill the High King of Tranavia, ending the war once and for all.
“If you fall to him the war will be lost. You have to live, Nadya.”
The action starts in the very first chapter of Wicked Saints, with Nadya’s home being attacked and her fleeing before the first chapter is over, but there was so much of the world to build up in those opening chapters that I struggled to get into this book. While I thought the world building was incredibly well-written, the political nuances of the two countries and the history of the blood mages important to the story, it was a lot to get through in the beginning of the book.
Wicked Saints starts in Kalyazin. We learn through Nadya a lot about the Gods she worships, and as she flees towards Tranavia with Malachiasz, Rashid and Parijahan we see some of the cold landscape with altars to the Gods hidden along the way. The bulk of the story though takes place in Tranavia where blood magic has pushed the Gods out and the more power one has the higher they can rise. The world building draws inspiration from Russia and Poland, and I loved the magic system of both countries which we certainly learnt a lot about in this first book.
“Are we so different, Nadya?” He lifted his hand, fingers tipped with long claws, and pressed his thumb against her lips. “We both long for freedom. For power. For a choice. We both want to see our kingdoms survive.”
Wicked Saints is told through Nadya’s and Serefin’s POVs, and the story centres around them both and Malachiasz, the Tranavian defector. Nadya has lived her whole life sheltered in the monastery, drilled into her how it’s her duty to follow the Gods will. She knows she should kill Malachiasz, her patron God keeps telling her to, but despite having ample opportunity she never can. Nadya believes in the Gods’ plans for her and Kalyazin; she’s steadfast in her belief, defending her religion to Malachiasz and following the Gods without question.
Nadya agrees with Malachiasz’s plan to kill the High King of Tranavia, but she keeps secret the Gods plan to have her break Tranavia completely, allowing their presence back into the country. Malachiasz is also keeping secrets; sometimes he seems a open character, debating with Nadya on her religion and the war between the two countries because of the magic they each use, but he never reveals more to her than his name.
The relationship between Nadya and Malachiasz was well developed. It wasn’t insta-love, and you could see the tension between them which eventually turned into something more, but I wasn’t as invested in it as I was in characters’ individual development.
“Father?” Something slipped in Serefin and his voice was no longer composed. Less the blood mage general and more the boy who wasn’t sure what was happening, and still – after all these years – didn’t understand why he had been shoved aside to fight a war he barely believed in.
Serefin ended up being my favourite character of the three. He’s confident on the war front, fighting for Tranavia’s interests, but when he’s called back home he doesn’t know where he stands. His father is acting suspiciously and Serefin fears for his life. He doesn’t intend to walk blindly to his fate, though he’s careful as he searches out answers, knowing his father has eyes and ears everywhere and the wrong question asked to the wrong person could draw his father’s ire.
There are some incredible side characters we meet in Wicked Saints. I really loved Serefin’s friends and protectors, Ostyia and Kacper. We got a decent amount of development to the two of them, and I loved the dynamic they had with Serefin and the past with bound them all. I also enjoyed learning more about Rashid and Parijahan, but at times I feel like their development was overshadowed by Nadya’s and Malachiasz’s.
“Dazzle the monsters, Nadya. You’ve already charmed the worst of the lot; the rest should be easy.”
Despite the slow start I did really enjoy Wicked Saints. It had everything I look for in fantasy books; well-developed characters, a good story which I’m sure is building up to a great trilogy, and an incredible world to explore. The ending, and some of the twists surrounding Malachiasz’s character, I never saw coming, and I’m excited to see where Emily A. Duncan takes things in the second book.
Have you read Wicked Saints, or is it still on your TBR list?
What did you think of this book? Did you struggles to get into the story at first, or were you hooked from the very beginning? Who was your favourite character, and what did you think of some of the twists that were revealed about Malachiasz’s character?