Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan
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.
This book seemed cool from the outset; look, I like dark fantasy, and I generally tend to enjoy all the blood and gore that comes with it. That paired with the Gothic, eastern-European setting made me think this book could be for me despite the mixed reviews I’d read. Alas, the potential was wasted. Despite Wicked Saints seeming like something I’d enjoy, I went into it with trepidation, and it still fell flat.
Wicked Saints focus on three main characters: Nadya, who can channel divine magic, Serefin, a blood mage and a prince, and Malachiasz, a dark and mysterious blood mage. Of these, the only one I really felt interested in was Serefin, but that was more because of his circumstance than because of his personality. I didn’t find that either of these three characters were particularly developed; all of them sort of fell flat to me. One big problem I had–and I don’t know how relevant this is–is that I could not shake the image of Malachiasz as Kylo Ren from my mind, knowing what I do about the author. Malachiasz really does feel like an expy (see: TV Tropes) of Kylo Ren from Star Wars–both self-serving and manipulative, and power-hungry. This doesn’t necessarily make me dislike a character, but I disliked Malachiasz because of it, and his constant manipulation of Nadya.
Despite the fact there are two main male characters, there’s not really a love triangle–it sets up Nadya with Malachiasz, and this pairing really frustrated me. It’s insta-lust, instant hate-to-love, with Nadya going against all the beliefs she was raised with just because this Tranavian boy is hot, and it drove me literally nuts.
When it comes to the worldbuilding, it really does feel overboard with the blood, but that was really the only unique thing about it. Gothic worldbuilding has been done so much better by other authors, I feel, so this setting just feels like a rehash of things I’ve seen before. I also want to link to this excellent review by Kiki which goes very in-depth into how religion tends to function in societies and how this book falls short of it, which is especially egregious because religion makes up the backbone of Wicked Saints‘s worldbuilding. The war that’s being fought is a holy war, and yet it’s difficult to see how a war the scale of this one has raged on so long.
I couldn’t get into Duncan’s writing, either. I feel like so much of the book consisted of telling, not showing, and when I’m being told that a character felt something instead of being shown it, I feel much more disconnected from the story and the characters. It felt clunky and disjointed in so many parts.
If you want to read a grimdark book about gods in people’s heads and perpetual war, I’d highly suggest reading R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War instead, which has so many elements of this book but ten times better. I ultimately don’t recommend this book, except maybe if you’re a Kylo Ren stan, and I won’t be reading the sequel.
content warnings | self harm, gore
representation | sapphic side character, south-asian coded side characters
have you read wicked saints? will you be reading ruthless gods?