“A witch is just a girl who has realized her power is her own.”
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.
CW: violence, loss of a loved one, torture, gore, alcoholism, self-harm, suicide, animal death
I always hope that when a friend recommends a book to me that I’ll love it. It feels like there’s a personal obligation there, a little corner of my brain that goes “GIFT! APPRECIATE GIFT!”
Unfortunately, that corner of my brain gets to take a back seat today, because Wicked Saints is the first 1 star book I’ve ever reviewed on my blog (hardly the first I’ve read, just the first reviewed), and oh dear god, do I have opinions.
For starters, I’m upset that this could have been incredible. Mortal characters interfacing with gods and the divine is one of those topics that I like to sink my teeth into, especially when it involves mortals proving to gods that maybe being an immortal, all-powerful know-it-all isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s so much potential for the exploration of power dynamics and power abuse and the sheer weight of CONSEQUENCES for trying to influence things widely regarded as beyond your proper sphere.
Instead, we get gods who occasionally talk to the main character to lend her their magic, but then disappear partway through the novel and leave the reader stranded with a cast of some of the dullest characters I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. So there it is, the one thing about this novel I think could have had the power to truly, completely impress me, and it went flying out the window, just effed off into the night without a sound. Cool, cool, peachy keen.
And those characters I mentioned? It really sucks to get to the end of an entire book and realize you cared about exactly none of them the whole way through. Part of it for me was the tropes employed: Nadya is the super special chosen one who ultimately ends up shuffled around at the whims of everyone else, a pawn in their schemes with all the dimension of a wet napkin. When she does feel some kind of emotion, it’s either confusing lust for the boy who’s supposed to be her enemy (more on him later, because he’s the worst of the lot to me), or its anger at the prince who destroyed her home and her dearest friends (which we forget about because LUST FOR HOT TORTURED SOUL BAD BOY). Forget the best friend she spends about two pages mourning in the beginning, then never really thinks of again, or the other friend who saves her damn life and involves herself in a perilous expedition in order to help Nadya. You’d think we’d get some life and color and characterization in a relationship that important.
Nope, we get Malachiasz instead, who is simultaneously described as a silly, anxious boy (yes, those are words used in the damned book), and as a dangerous practitioner of blood magic, someone who’s not quite human and who is immensely dangerous in every single aspect. He’s also manipulative as hell, and when it comes down to it, it’s looking like his arc entwined with Nadya is going to come down to “girl chooses to save jackass who doesn’t deserve her instead of saving the world and pretty much ending up set for life.”
He also gives me huge Kylo Ren vibes, which immediately makes me a thousand times less interested. I have no time for redemption arcs so generously bestowed on POSes who’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve it. So he’s good-looking, whatever. Did you miss the part where he was responsible for a vicious amount of bloodshed and suffering, and shows no sign of any remorse for what he’s done because SURPRISE, it put him in a position of unrivaled power?
And to cap off the trio of disappointments, we have Serefin, the crown prince and resident alcoholic that the author tries to make into a sympathetic soft boy. Newsflash, one of his earliest scenes (after destroying Nadya’s home and slaughtering many of the people she’d grown up with) was to torture Nadya’s best friend and then follow up with killing a child pretty much just because! Then I’m supposed to sympathize with him because there’s a plot to prevent him from inheriting? Good! Don’t let him inherit! Honestly, throw the whole damn royal family away, given what we’ve seen.
So when I say I reached the end of the book without caring for a single one of these characters, I suppose I was wrong. I cared only in that I hated every single one of them.
Yes, hate is a strong word.
Yes, this is the first time I’ve hated a book this much in a very long time.
And guess what! We haven’t even gotten to the plot! We’re saving that for after a quick talk about the representation, though, because HOLY HELL. It’s like watching a train wreck. You just can’t look away.
Really, there are two big, BIG issues in the rep department. First, the only queer character is the knife lesbian who’s pretty much Serefin’s best friend. Normally, I love me a good knife lesbian, but that relies on her having any semblance of a personality besides existing at the whim of a main character. In this case, no dice. She’s pretty much at Serefin’s beck and call except when she’s aggressively flirting, and even though they’re supposed to be childhood friends, I don’t get a lick of depth to her besides the fact she barely leaves Serefin’s side. And besides her, there’s not a single other hint of queerness. So yeah, the only queer character is an aggressive antagonistic lesbian with no depth.
The other fun (read: pretty damned appalling) issue with Wicked Saints is the way it handles race. There are two POC in the cast, and like our unfortunate knife lesbian, they exist almost solely as support for one of the main characters. In this case, Malachiasz. Neither one of them seems to have any particular goal of their own besides helping Malachiasz reach his mysterious goals (which, guess what! do absolutely nothing to help them!), and they only appear when they’re convenient to the plot.
And as a bonus slight, their people and cultures never fully feature in the novel otherwise, and are referred to as “creatures of the desert.” Yes, creatures. That speaks volumes, absolutely none of them good, and I know I’m not interested in any more of that.
Now, here’s a point to take a breather, because I need to complain about the plot while I’m still here, before I get sick and tired of this review and this book as a whole. (Can you tell I won’t be touching Ruthless Gods? Because I can say with total certainty that I don’t need that in my life.)
Thankfully, we can make this short and sweet: the plot accomplishes next to nothing. The first half of the book is something of a travel story, coming on the heels of the destruction of Nadya’s home and leading towards her attempting to take action as a cleric, restoring the gods to the land that has forsaken them.
The second half, then, is mostly Nadya trying not to flounder through Serefin’s court, Serefin getting drunk and dealing with assassination attempts, and Malachiasz disappearing only to remember he’s a part of the novel at the last second, where he ruins everything and vanishes into the night. Do we get any closure on bringing the gods to this country? No. Do we get any hints about the nature of Nadya’s magic? No. Do we find out what happened to Nadya’s best friend that she’s been (supposedly) mourning even though it turns out he’s not dead? No. Do we understand what the hell has happened to Serefin and why it matters at all? No.
The second half of the plot did absolutely nothing for me except raise more questions I didn’t even care about the possible answers to, and that’s not a strong ending to the first book, especially not when you’re attempting to write a trilogy.
Given that I’m writing this review while I’m home sick, I think this is the time and place to call it quits. I have much better books on the horizon to review, including a 5 star read that was the book of my dreams, and I don’t have the energy to keep ripping this one apart.
TL;DR? Wicked Saints is a steaming disappointment on almost every level. It could have been fascinating, could have been insightful in regards to power dynamics, and instead, it’s a slog (if we’re being kind instead of being blunt). Some folks are also saying it’s a ripoff of the Grisha trilogy, which I can’t corroborate, since I dropped that series after finishing the first book and feeling absolutely no affection for it whatsoever, but I know this much: it wasn’t worth my time, except as practice for explaining exactly why I had problems with it.