Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Published by Wednesday Books on April 2, 2019
Series: Something Dark and Holy #1
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: 400 pages Source: NetGalley
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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.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from NetGalley and Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
If you’re looking for a deeply dark fantasy world, littered with monsters, then Wicked Saints is for you. It’s gruesome and gritty and filled with an excellent amount of magic and uncertainty.
Our protagonist, Nadya, is the last Cleric. She has been chosen by the gods to deliver Kalyazin from the endless war with Tranavia and bring the gods back into perspective. While Nadya is backed by the goddess of death, she is able to commune with all the gods. This is historically unheard of. Driven by rage and piety and hopes of revenge, Nadya follows the mysterious Malachiasz into the heart of Tranavia with a plot to kill the king and end the war.
There’s a couple of things I want to point out from the start, one of which is that HOLY CRAP THIS STORY FOLLOWS A CLERIC. If you’re familiar with the D&D universe at all, then you know there are loads of stories that follow various character tropes – paladins are the favorite, but also sorcerers, barbarians, and magical creatures like the Drow… how often do we come across a book where the main character is a cleric? In my experience, this trope appears often as a friend or sidekick, but rarely as the protagonist, so enjoy this one ducklings.
Wicked Saints has the potential to to be this incredible overarching epic fantasy, but Emily A. Duncan’s pacing is too quick for that. I feel like this book just raced by. On her Goodreads review of Wicked Saints, Emily points out that this is a planned trilogy, so the pacing will likely make more sense as we continue forward, but dang. This one was really fast.
I actually do want to draw attention to Emily’s Goodreads review of her own book, because she uses this space for a few behind-the-scenes explanations and for trigger warnings, which I think is really important. Before delving into the novel, do check out her review.
I think the greatest strength of this novel was the world building itself. The landscape was dark and gritty, filled with danger even if left to its own accord. The two magical systems Emily A. Duncan built have enough detail to be utterly fascinating, but are vague enough that you’re not bored by mechanics. There is some traveling with Nadya and her merry band, but this is largest skipped in the second POV, High Prince Serefin of Tranavia. You can imagine the ravages of the snowy wasteland without all the walking and flowery language. Then, when you’re following Serefin’s POV, you get to see some of the ins and outs of court life and the politics of Tranavia. Since the two POVs are carefully spliced together, there’s just a tease of information. I personally am a sucker for epic fantasies and I wanted SO MUCH MORE description in this world. I wanted to really absorb it, but Emily doesn’t slow down for that, and I understand her choice. Wicked Saints is aimed at a YA audience. The YA genre appreciates fast paced fantasies – if you’re looking for something slow and steady a la Tolkien, it’s to the adult fantasy shelf you go. C’est la vie.
I didn’t really find myself getting attached to the characters until near the end, when things got CRAZY. I will tell y’all this now: the ending really makes the book. It’s twisty and brilliant and very… Neil Gaiman, I guess? The Cathedral scene felt like something in his universe, akin to American Gods and Coraline in its right-wrongness. I liked it. The character transformations are all at once enraging and delightful. If you even find yourself struggling between chapters, remember this and thank me later.
Wicked Saints is definitely just a taste – this trilogy has a lot more to come, I’m sure, and I’m on board for the sequel.
Do you enjoy dark fantasies? Although fluffy romantic fantasies are fun, sometimes it’s nice to read something dark and gritty. Share your favorite dark fantasies in the comments!