Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: April 2nd 2019
Personal Rating: 5/5
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.
“Prepare for a snow-frosted, blood-drenched fairy tale where the monsters steal your heart and love ends up being the nightmare.” – Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen
I was given an advanced copy of this book by Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
It is hard to describe this novel without saying how spectacular it was in every other sentence. This is going to be the next big thing.
Wicked Saints is a unique dark fantasy. Unlike the majority of young adult fantasy novels — which are based on western European culture — Ms. Duncan’s novel roots of fantasy derive from Eastern European culture.
We follow the story of Nadezhda (Nadya) Lapteva — a young girl who lives in a monastery in Kalyazi, however, this girl is special because she is the last known cleric in her land and the only one who has been able to speak to all the gods. While this may ring like special and perfect butterfly vibes — Nadya is nothing like that. Nadya is a young girl who has been given an impossible fate since her birth — save Kalyazi from their neighboring country Tranavian and bring back the gods to Tranavian’s godless lands.
Living in her monastery bubble Nadya had accepted her fate and throughout most of the book we see her true to her believes (not really influenced by the main love interest. When her bubble begins to pop it is not by a boy but by her own venture into outside her closed space. Nadya was able to see problems in everything she knew based on her new experiences and the knowledge she acquired along the way. It felt very real. Especially since her core believes and values still dominated her decision making to the very last page.
After Nadya’s monastery (and home) is attacked by Tranavian prince Serefin Meleski, she begins her adventure and the fate that was expected from her since birth. Along the way, she meets dark conflicted soft boy Malachiasz Czechowicz, a Tranavian blood-mage who also wants to end the century-long war between Kalyazi and Tranavian (he is also the love interest who is just dreamy and I just want to give him a hug honestly). The romance was sweet — not lovey dove sweet but Nadya constantly beating herself up because she realizes she is developing feelings for “the enemy.” The way she handled the whole situation was amusing.
The two work together to try to do the one thing that could bring the war to a close — assassinating the king of Tranavian.
Wicked Saints is told through the point of view of ruthless and bad-ass Nadya and tired and awkward bisexual Serefin. Which was brilliant since we can the through the eyes of a Kalyazi and a Tranavian and it shows how there are truly two sides to every story and not everything is what it seems from the other side.
Ms. Duncan Eastern European inspired fantasy draws heavily on the religious entities of saints and gods. She creates her own set of Pantheons which she introduces slowly throughout the novel. Even while everything is her own creation, it is obvious that Ms. Duncan did proper research on religious practices of believing in saints. Everything felt natural.
The magic in this fantasy novel is said to be inspired by Joan d’Arc, but honestly, it is inspired by Dungeons and Dragons clerics and wizards — which is obvious to see if you play the tabletop game. The way Nadya’s magic and the magic of the blood mage work is very D&D and I absolutely loved it. It is subtle and you only realize it if you know how those two classes work in D&D.
Everything about this novel was spectacular. The plot, the world building, the pacing, the magic system, the lore, the characters. I was instantly hooked. I thought I had figured out the plot twist — turns out I was wrong and there were more twists than I was anticipating.
Honestly, Wicked Saints is going to be the next big thing. You need to get your hands in a copy promptly. If you are still second-guessing, Wednesday Books was kind enough to let me share an excerpt of the novel with you! Read and meet little Nadya.
Like Ms. Duncan said: “For all your dark fantasy about girls with daggers, alcoholic princes, melodramatic goth boys & Slavic cosmic horror monsters needs!”
(Fair warning there self-harming involved but it is no malicious, blood mages need their own blood to perform spells.)
Emily A. Duncan was born and raised in Ohio and works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons.