Review: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Wicked Saints Review

         I decided to jump back into Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan in preparation for Ruthless Gods, the second story in the series (a trilogy I believe), which is coming out April 7, 2020. I read Wicked Saints last year when I received an ARC (advanced readers copy) from Wednesday Books for review.

         Overall, it was one of my favorite reads of 2018 (I read it earlier than the April 2019 release date) and when I reflect back, it is one of the books that stand out most to me – so I was excited to see if it lived up to my memory the second time around. In full disclosure, I am not someone who tends to gravitate towards re-reads of books. I have re-read some series including Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, but they are few and far between. To me, there are just too many outstanding books out there that need read to generally revisit books I have already read.

The Plot

         The story starts off with meeting Nadezhda Lapteva (Nadya for short) who lives in a monastery in the remote area of Kalyazin. Her country has been in a seemingly endless war with Tranavia – and she is not on the winning side. Kalyazin citizens are a devout polytheistic people and Nadya herself is a cleric (someone who wields the magic of the gods). Tranavians, on the other hand, have rejected the worship of gods and are instead ruled by dark blood magic. The resulting holy war has become more and more aggressive as the Tranavians have invaded Kalayazin and continue to destroy all magic users in their path.

         Unfortunately, Nadya’s time safe in the remote monastery ends right as our story begins as the Tranavian High Prince Serefin Meleski attacks, sending her fleeing. Serefin himself is a powerful blood mage devoted to the cause of eradicating clerics from Kalyazin under the guidance of his father, the king. However, there are cracks in his façade, especially as the story progresses. He drinks too much, he questions too much, and he is too powerful – and he is an all-around likable character albeit maybe a touch misguided.

         While fleeing, Nadya joins forces with Rashid and Parijahan, two Akolans (who are from a mostly-neutral 3rd party country that often sell their services to both Kalyazin and Tranavia), and a Tranavian named Malachiasz Czechowicz. While she’s initially extremely wary of them, as their presence is a threat to her, she eventually comes to somewhat trust them and they help her escape Serefin.

         As expected, Nadya is instantly drawn to Malachiasz. He is a powerful blood mage, attractive, brooding, and dangerous - absolutely everything that makes a perfect ‘sort of’ love-match a la The Darkling (from Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse series). Malachiasz, Parijahn, and Rashid convince Nadya to travel to the palace to assassinate the king of Tranavia to end the war.

         Throughout the book, we are treated to chapters from Nadya’s point of view as well as Serefin. It helps to really blur the lines of good and evil – and for you to see that maybe the darkness that threatens to end Kalayazin is not as simple as they once thought. 

The Review

         The aesthetic this book draws upon is one of my favorites – it is all blood, magic, darkness, and gothic vibes. It is truly magical, dark and metal from the beginning to end. The descriptions of the countryside, the architecture and the monsters that inhabit the lands transport you into the story – and I find it really refreshing that it is as descriptive as it is for a debut novel.

         As for the characters, I love Emily’s writing style and the banter she gives the characters. For such a serious, dark story it would be easy to leave out the lighthearted conversations and sarcasm that the characters have and I am extremely glad she did not.

         However, the main area I struggled with this book was in the character names. Emily draws heavily from Polish and eastern European inspirations and the names were not some I was used to. While I do not consider the difficulty of names a bad thing, it took me a little while to keep them straight and I think this was because I could not ‘hear’ how they were pronounced in my head. Thankfully, the publisher released a pronunciation guide to help combat this. Alternatively, with my second re-read of this book, I also listened to the audiobook while I was in the car – I found this helped immensely with cementing the names in my brain.

         Personally, I really enjoy the enemies-to-lovers type of romance. While the romance was not front and center for this book, it did become a bigger focus as the book progressed. Malachiasz is the bad boy you know you should not like in high school – but still found yourself lusting after when you thought no one was looking. Sign me up! While this book is young adult (YA), it incorporated a healthy amount of sexual tension - which is everything I love. Sometimes the lead up is even better than the romance. Nadya and Malachiasz’s romance is a slow burn, with twists and turns that make it hurt SO GOOD.

         Overall, I think Wicked Saints is a wonderful debut from Emily. It is a complex story with a dark and beautiful aesthetic and likable characters. It is perfect for anyone who still occasionally cranks up their emo music from that phase in high school, or for those who never grew out of it (hey – I embrace it too!).

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/ 5 stars

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