Warning: Review may contain spoilers for Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy #1) by Emily A. Duncan.
If I had to sum up this book in one sentence it would be, ‘And everyone was having a bad time’, which makes for a very GOOD time for the reader. This book is extremely and beautifully intense, like you are on the cusp of something amazing or terrible and every action brings the characters closer to one twisted outcome or the other.
Even as a reader you are torn, part of you wanting to see it all brought to ash and the other half wanting to see it made perfect – though your idea of perfect is mostly fluid. Just who is right or wrong? Who is the ‘bad’ guy? What is evil? We are so used to reading stories that are black and white, good vs evil, that when we are hit with morally gray characters (and I mean EVERYONE is gray in Ruthless Gods) there is this amazing confusion that follows.
It is safe to say, I did not want this book to end. Even though it is quite a bit longer than Wicked Saints, it was still too short – I would like to live in this beautifully painful dreamscape for a bit longer. I have actually been putting off writing this review because ever since finishing last week I am still not sure I can do all that it is justice.
The story picks up a few months after we left off in Wicked Saints and everyone is sulking. Nadya is still attempting to cope and rationalize Malachiasz’s betrayal. Serefin is holding on to the monarchy and his newly crowned role as king by a thread. Malachiasz is hanging onto his humanity, but just barely – he is more monster than man.
Much like Wicked Saints we alternate between Nadya and Serefin’s point of views. However, we get a little bit of a Malachiasz point of view here and there as well as tiny insights into Parijahan, Kacper, and Tsarevna (a new character who is introduced about halfway through).
Serefin is facing a coup by un-loyal courtesans lead by Żaneta’s father who is demanding her safe return. It is becoming increasingly clear that Serefin is ‘touched’ to those around him as his eye still has constellations in it and he is constantly surrounded by moths. More concerning for Serefin is the visions he has begun having and the voices he now hears in his head.
Nadya still cannot hear the gods, and is convinced she has been cast out by those she has devoted her life to serving. She is starting to be plagued by dark magic, that she does not think is her own. Maybe it is Malachiasz? Maybe it is something else altogether?
Together, along with Kacper, Ostyia, Parijahan and Rashid, they set off to find Malachiasz and save Żaneta as well as look for answers to why Nadya can no longer hear the gods
The girl, the prince, and the monster all need the gods but what are they willing to sacrifice? While they all take different paths in an attempt to achieve a means to their ends – Nadya to redeem herself and stifle the darkness growing day by day, Serefin to retain his crown, and Malachiasz to grasp the power he struggles to hold on to – they have to be prepared to give up everything.
Emily does a fantastic job of taking what Wicked Saints started and building on it exponentially. The darkness and the beautifully-written heartbreak that each of the characters endures pulls you in and refuses to let go. It is gothic, wicked, brutal, and tragic in the best ways.
One warning, I found it to be more gory than Wicked Saints. Without spoiling anything a character is continually described as having multiple clusters of eyes opening and closing on his or her skin. Sometimes oozing blood, sometimes with teeth and just all the way around disconcerting and horrific in a ‘oh my god is this happening? I’m grossed out but I cannot look away’ type of way. Hello, trypophobia, nice to meet you. I think it adds immensely to the whole aesthetic of the story, but readers may want to be aware of that little bit of gore going into the book.
I was completely filled with tension this whole book, and I loved every second. The threat of what is looming and what might be unleashed by a character, is so large and ever-present in the book I found myself cringing almost every time I turned a page. I felt as if I was watching a horror movie with my hands in front of my face peeking out between my fingers waiting for the monster to appear.
Alternatively, there’s no lack of romantic tension either. If you hopped on the Nadya/Malachiasz ship in Wicked Saints be prepared for even more sexual tension goodness. Emily delivers it in all of its tragic, heartbreaking glory in spades. I will 100% go down with this ship. Every interaction they have rips you apart while simultaneously putting you back together. Outside of Nadya and Malachiasz we see another romance blossom and I did not see it coming – but I love it. It is an amazing juxtaposition beside the torture that is Nadya and Malachiasz.
Emily also does a fantastic job of confusing you to the point that you have no idea what is going on, who is good, who is bad (who are you ACTUALLY supposed to root for?!), and what the outcome will be, that you want to just wallow in the mess she has created. It is all so twisted, so dark that it is impossible to tell what is up and what is down.
In general, I find that most second books can end up being a bore, especially in a trilogy. The first book introduces you to the characters and the second book seems to be just a means to an end to get you to the conclusion which is the third book. However, Emily makes the journey that is Ruthless God such a (painful) pleasure to read and there is no middle book slump. Honestly, you get so wrapped up in the character development, and what might happen to everyone you care about (even though you know you should not) that it is almost impossible to put the book down.
It is truly a one-of-a-kind book and I can say there is not an equal in gothic, dark fantasies. Order it, sell your soul for it (very Malachiasz of you), do what you got to do to get your hands on this book – you will not regret it.
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/ 5 stars
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