Wicked Saints

(Something Dark and Holy #1)

Author: Emily A. Duncan | YA Fantasy


Reviewed By: Ellie

Publisher: Wednesday Books, 01/04/2019
Format: Hardback, 385pg
CW: LOTS of blood, discussion of self harm, I didn't find it particularly gory but I know some readers did so be aware of that

Before we get started, this is absolutely not going to be a spoiler free review. My feelings on this book just cannot be encompassed in only the spoiler-free bits, so I’m not even going to try. You have been warned, proceed at your own risk.

“Blood and blood and bone. Magic and monsters and tragic power.”

From the very get go I knew that Wicked Saints was going to be something right up my alley. The description had me ready to read the book since it released, and I’m disappointed I took so long to get to it. The book features alternating perspectives between Nadya, a girl from the country of Kalyazin who can speak to the gods and use their power (as long as she asks nicely of course) and Serefin, the heir to the Tranavaian throne and a powerful blood mage to boot. I’ll be honest, multiple perspectives can be hit or miss for me. However, it was handled masterfully and I thoroughly enjoyed the layers of perspectives provided to each situation. While I found the first half of the book much weaker than the second half, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

OK, let’s break it all down shall we?

World building

This is perhaps where this book fell the shortest for me. The world building in Wicked Saints is good, but not great. The physical descriptions of the two countries, Kalyazin and Travania, were really vivid and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Where some novels might struggle to explain their magic systems, especially when there are multiple, Wicked Saints did not. The magic is explained concisely within the first three chapters, and even when new aspects arise the always made sense.

However, it stumbled when it came to trying to add a more cultural flair to the text. Russia is clearly the biggest influence on this fantasy world, which isn’t an issue for me, and in fact suits Wicked Saints nicely. My issue came when characters would slip into their native tongues and have what they were saying translated only 75% of the time. Sadly, this left me wishing I knew foreign languages while simultaneously being too lazy to pull up Google Translate to see if it could help me out. Maybe that’s on me, but also I feel like I shouldn’t have to be a polyglot to enjoy a book to the fullest.

Main Characters

Oh man. The characters are what let this book really shine for me. We have three main characters, and I love them equally which is acctually quite rare for me. Nadya is a girl who starts out as a fiercely devout religious cleric who slowly falls for a monster, and begins to question everything she’s ever been told. Malachiasz is this tortured boy who for most of the book you believe to be a tortured boy who’s on the run from the corrupt order of blood mages he used to be a part of, while struggling to accept himself and do better. Until the end of course, where he pulls off one of the better written betrayals I’ve read in a while. And my personal favorite, Serefin. He’s an exhausted, borderline alcoholic, bisexual prince who really would just like to not be murdered by his father thank you very much.

Individually each of our three main characters were absolute knockouts for me. Their relationship building on the other hand, not so much. There were cases where characters would go from enemies, to begrudging allies, to best friends all within a span of 10 pages, which I found a bit disorienting. The book also massively underutilized its side characters.

Side Characters

The king, Izak, had the potential to play a much larger part into the plot in my opinion. His madness was intriguing and I would have loved to explore it further. Kacper and Kostya truly deserved better though. We saw Kostya for the first few chapters, saw him witness the death of someone who I think might have been his little brother before just never hearing from him again. And poor Kacper just disappears at the end of the book. Nobody even mentions him again beside a single offhanded worried mention from Serefin. Zaneta proved to be really interesting in the end, and her character arc will be very interesting in the next books. That said, Ostyia, a tiny murder lesbian, was the best of the minor characters in my opinion, and we didn’t even see as much of her as I would have liked.

Kacper and Kostya truly deserved better though. We saw Kostya for the first few chapters, saw him witness the death of someone who I think might have been his little brother before just never hearing from him again. And poor Kacper just disappears at the end of the book. Nobody even mentions him again beside a single offhanded worried mention from Serefin. Zaneta proved to be really interesting in the end, and her character arc will be very interesting in the next books. That said, Ostyia, a tiny murder lesbian, was the best of the minor characters in my opinion, and we didn’t even see as much of her as I would have liked.

Plot

What starts out as something that felt very similar to most darker YA fantasy novels, really evolves into something enjoyable as the novel progresses. The constant dichotomy between light and dark, holy and blasphemous, right and wrong… was really well done. And man! The plot twist at the end with Malachiasz’s betrayal had me on the edge of my seat. I’m really excited to see where this plot goes in the next books. I’m doubly as excited because I thought it was just going to be a duology and just found out it’s actually a trilogy.

Romance

I’ll be up front. I’m a massive sucker for romance. Especially when the male love interest is either a cocky prince with daddy issues or broody boy who most likely has an upsetting backstory. I got both from this book. I’ll be honest, I was rooting for Nadya to get with Serefin (and I think I still am) but her relationship with Malachiasz was…. exquisite. I really enjoyed it and am honestly quite upset we didn’t get to see more of it before the end. While I hope Nadya falls for Serefin in the next books, I realize that’s not likely. Still, the potential for the redeemed lover arc with Malachiasz is a wonderful thing to consider. Honestly, I think I’ll be fine with wherever it goes since I love both boys so much.

Overall, I loved Wicked Saints. The book isn’t quite a five star experience, but definitely a solid four star read. I fully recommend it to anyone who loves dark and bloody YA Fantasy. The biggest disappointment is that I have to wait until next April to get my hands on the sequel. Until then, I’ll be praying that Serefin finds the time to get the nap that he so dearly deserves.

Happy reading!

Ellie x