Title: Wicked Saints
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: 2nd April 2019
Genre: YA Fantasy
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’d like to say thank you to Wednesday Books for giving me a chance to review Wicked Saints in exchange for an honest review during this blog tour. Over the last few months, I have heard a lot of amazing reviews about Emily’s debut novel, so of course, I was over the moon when I was given an eARC to read. The danger with a lot of hype surrounding a book is that it may not always live up to the expectations, but luckily for me, Wicked Saints did.
Kalyazin and Tranavia have been at war for a century, with the Tranavian heretics slowly growing in power. The gods have always listened to Nadya when she prayed and only she is strong enough to go against the blood magic of her enemies. When her monastery is invaded, she goes on the run to escape the High Prince, Serefin, who is the strongest of his kind. While travelling she meets two refugees and a Tranavian blood mage called Malachiasz who has rebelled against his order, the Vultures. Going against the wishes of the gods, Nadya forges an alliance with them in the hopes of travelling to Tranavia to kill the king and stop the holy war before it destroys them all. However, not everything is as it seems and Nadya begins to question everything she has been told about blood magic and her gods.
“We’re all monsters, Nadya,” Malachiasz said, his voice gaining a few tangled chords of chaos. “Some of us just hide it better than others.”
As an atheist, I normally tend to stay away from books with religious themes but I was intrigued by Wicked Saints, mainly because it was so different from anything I’d read before. The idea of gods choosing clerics who can hear them was interesting, especially because Nadya can hear all of them, the only one of her kind.
We’re thrown right into the action from the very beginning and I flew through the first quarter of the book. It was really enjoyable and I became more invested as I went along. It took me a little while to connect with Nadya as a character, probably because it dived into the action straight away, but I have to say I enjoyed the banter between her and the gods and it had me smiling on more than one occasion. I love the fact that her opinions never stayed the same and she questioned everything. She struggled, she made mistakes, but that is what makes her real. What teenager doesn’t struggle with their identity and beliefs at some point?
The world building was probably my favourite aspect of this story, as it was based on Russia and Poland. I could feel the chill of the mountains thanks to Emily’s descriptions and felt immersed in the story. Wicked Saints doesn’t read like a debut. It’s intriguing and full of atmopshere. Each new chapter opened with snippets about the history of the saints, clerics and gods of Kalyazin, giving insight into just how violent their world is. While the story takes place in Kalyazin and Tranavia, we also meet two characters from the desert lands of Akola, Parijahan and Rashid, who I really enjoyed reading about in this book. Hopefully, the world will expand more in the rest of the trilogy because I really liked what I read.
Blood magic is rife in Wicked Saints and I loved the new take on it. The mages have to cut themselves (TW: self-harm) and then press the pages of their spellbook against the cut to work the magic, which is something I have never read before. This is a dark book with dark themes (TW: torture, abuse, gore and blood), although I think part of me was expecting it to be more brutal and darker. However, Malachiasz is a blood mage who caught my attention instantly because I wasn’t sure what he was going to do. Nothing is as it seems with this book and it was fun watching Nadya try to handle this monster boy who makes her question everything. Malachiasz is a bit of mystery and it was good to see the secrets unravelling in a way I thought they would. There is nothing better when a plot twist happens the way you expect, showing it was well thought out.
As far as romance goes, I kind of wish it hadn’t stayed so close to the trope of enemies-to-lovers as I didn’t feel Nadya really had a reason to hate him and there was a lot of focus on him. I never once felt that it wasn’t Nadya’s story, but I wasn’t as invested in the romance as I thought I would be. However, I did enjoy their characters and can’t wait to see what becomes of them later on. Now, Serefin…he’s my favourite. He is morally grey, loves to drink and is always tired, which makes him the best kind of character in my eyes. Some people say the amount he drinks is unrealistic but they’ve clearly never been to a house party in the UK (I won’t say how much I used to drink). I really loved his character arc in Wicked Saints and I’ve been left with a lot of questions after the ending. There are other side characters who I loved reading about as well and who also offer some LGBTQ rep in the book, as well as disability, so there is something for everyone.
I’m glad Wicked Saints was a fast-paced book because it meant I was flying through the chapters, but sometimes I felt as if things moved too quick at times. The first 25% and the last 25% were my favourite parts as there was a lot going on, but I wish there had been more than just travelling in between that space. I also wish there had been more to read because of how much I enjoyed it. Saying that, now that the world has been set up, I’m sure there will be more twists and turns in the sequel which I cannot wait for. The ending left me feeling very excited to see what these characters get up to because I have questions. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I can’t wait to find out.
Overall, I really enjoyed Wicked Saints and felt it was a great debut for Emily A. Duncan and showcased her style of writing perfectly. It was unique with the world building, it had interesting characters, dark themes and plot twists, which are always my favourite parts of a story. I’m giving Wicked Saints a solid 4 stars!
Praise For Wicked Saints
“Prepare for a snow frosted, blood drenched fairy tale where the monsters steal your heart and love ends up being the nightmare. Utterly absorbing.” – Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen
“Full of blood and monsters and magic—this book destroyed me and I adored it. Emily is a wicked storyteller, she’s not afraid to hurt her characters or her readers. If you’ve ever fallen in love with a villain you will fall hard for this book.” – Stephanie Garber, New York Times bestselling author of Caraval
“This is the novel of dark theology and eldritch blood-magic that I’ve been waiting for all my life. It’s got a world at once brutal and beautiful, filled with characters who are wounded, lovable, and ferocious enough to break your heart. A shattering, utterly satisfying read.” – Rosamund Hodge, author of Cruel Beauty and Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
“Wicked Saints is a lush, brutal, compelling fantasy that is dark, deep, and bloody—absolutely riveting! With a boy who is both man and monster, mysterious saints with uncertain motives, and a girl filled with holy magic who is just beginning to understand the full reaches of her power, this gothic jewel of a story will sink its visceral iron claws into you, never letting go until you’ve turned the last page. And truthfully, not even then -the explosive ending will haunt you for days! ” – Robin LaFevers, New York Times bestselling author of the His Fair Assassin trilogy
“Dark, bloody, and monstrously romantic. This is the villain love interest that we’ve all been waiting for.” – Margaret Rogerson, New York Times bestselling author of An Enchantment of Ravens
“Seductively dark and enchanting, Wicked Saints is a trance you won’t want to wake from. Duncan has skillfully erected a world like no other, complete with provocative magic, sinister creatures, and a plot that keeps you guessing. This spellbinding YA fantasy will bewitch readers to the very last page.” – Adrienne Young, New York Times bestselling author of Sky in the Deep
About The Author
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.