Title: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: 2 April 2019
Genre: Fantasy | Young adult
Page count: 385 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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..
Wicked Saints has some of my absolute favourite elements to see in a fantasy novel: gods who can speak, religion, blood magic, anxious boys, and strong female leads! So it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed this book. Whilst it did take a little bit for the action to kick off, I couldn’t put the book down once I reached the halfway point – and the ending.
Wicked Saints tell the story of Nadya, Malachiasz, and Serefin, three young adults who can wield magic. We open on Nadya, the last of the clerics in the country of Kalyazi. Nadya can commune with the gods, and in exchange for her worship and obedience, they grant her magic. As the last of the clerics, she is the key to winning the war against the heretical nation of Tranavia, whom Kalyazi has been at war with for centuries.
Serefin is the High Prince of Tranavia. He leads the assault on the monastery where Nadya is based, and when she escapes, attempts to follow her to kill her. But, an uneasy letter from his father sends him returning to the capital of Tranavia, where he is forced to investigate a threat to his own life.
Malachiasz is a monster. He’s a powerful blood mage, a heretic from Tranavia, who wants to assassinate the Tranavian King. When Nadya runs into him in her escape, she is forced to work with him to try and end the war once and for all. And at the same time, bring the gods back to the land of Tranavia.
“We’re all monsters, Nadya, some of us just hide it better than others.”
The book opens excellently, and we are immediately thrown into a world with religion and gods and magic, and I absolutely loved hearing the voices of each of the gods speak to Nadya. They each have very distinct personalities. I especially liked the extracts from the Book of Saints, which open each chapter, and give further insight into the personalities of the different Gods. As much as I loved the opening, the book did slow after the first 50 pages, as the plan and plotting were set up for the second half of the book. Once Serefin and Nadya cross paths for the second time, the story definitely picks up though.
This is a book where the secondary characters really shine – I really enjoyed all the scenes with both Serefin’s friends, Kacper and Ostyia, as well as Nadya’s companions, Anna, Parijahan, and Rashid. In addition, I found Żaneta a very intriguing character, and enjoyed seeing her desires play out across the story. Nadya is an extremely strong lead, her struggles between power and obedience are really well written and I could really see who she was and why she doing what she was. I felt the same way with Serefin – I loved seeing the other side of him. When the book begins, with Nadya’s POV, we expect to see Serefin as an absolute monster, and yet during his POV sections, we discover he is much more nuanced and things aren’t quite as black and white as expected.
The only character I struggled with was Malachiasz, which really surprised me as anxious boys who think they’re monsters is really my kind of thing. Unfortunately, I really struggled with his characterisation in the first half of the book, it just wasn’t quite in depth enough. However, much like the action, I found him much improved in the second half of the book, and I loved the play out of the ‘is he a monster, is he not’ in the latter half.
The highlight of this book for me was the magic – I am an absolute sucker for both blood magic and god magic, and this book had both in absolute droves! The blood magic was particularly interesting, as blood mages have to write spells on paper and use blood to then activate them. I also enjoyed the creatures called the Vultures – Tranavians who have succumbed to the thrall of blood magic too much and become more than human. They were very creepy and evil and so so good.
This book was a really great read, and the ending was such a shock that I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel! If you like blood magic and gods and excellent characters, give this one a try!
Rach + Draco