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Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars
Heavily compared to the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, this YA-Fantasy trilogy has also been said by fans who shipped Alina Starkov with The Darkling will really enjoy this story, to which I can definitely agree with!
Fans of the genre have been drawn to this darkly gothic tale of a nation torn in half because of a holy war, and even Owlcrate created their own special editions of the books that honestly look even better than the originals. It’s got some Russian (Kalyazin) and Polish (Tranavia) inspiration in the ways of the two sparring countries, and fellow readers are really drawn to the different types of religions and how they’ve been such a huge driving force of the larger, outer conflict this story represents.
It starts off as a typical good-vs.-evil type of story, but as you read on, you realize its more of a group of morally grey characters, which to me, always makes for a more interesting story. Nadya is obviously supposed to be the hero of the story, but Serefin takes a little longer for you to feel the same way about him, and you honestly don’t know what to think about Malachiasz; the boy is an enigma. With just about any other fantasy story, you know all their own motivations involves gaining power and helping end the way by any means, but the more interesting part of that is the different ways they try to go about achieving that goal. Nadya could use a little more personification and personality in my opinion, but I did really enjoy the other two male characters; I could tell the author outdid herself with them as main characters.
**Spoiler Warning but also Trigger Warning!**
While it wasn’t a problem for me personally, there are some trigger warnings for more sensitive readers to be weary of before opening the pages of Wicked Saints. There are countless times in the book where characters induce self-harm on themselves by drawing blood. In Tranavia, blood magic is their game, and the mages keep sharp razor blades sewn into their sleeves to wipe into their spell books and cast spells to attack their enemies. Other trigger warnings include torture and parental abuse.
I would say my favorite aspects of this book were the two male main characters, Serefin and Malachiasz. Out of the characters, I felt they had the most fleshed out arcs and showed the most personality, and I hope the other characters—especially Nadya—catch up with them. I do have some disappointment with the romance of this story and how I just didn’t seem to really connect with all the other cast of characters. They were there, but there wasn’t anything quite so memorable about it.
What It’s About:
Some gods require blood.”— Emily A. Duncan, “Wicked Saints”
The Official Blurb:
For almost over a century, Kalyazin and Tranavia have fought in a holy war, all based off one nation’s fear, but both sides have suffered major loss since its inception.
Nadya, a Kalyazin cleric who can commune with all their gods, is training in supposed secrecy at a monastery deep in the mountains by priests who sought to wield the power inside her into the one that could save Kalyazin from sinking to its knees. A sudden Tranavian attack on them destroys any sense of safety she’s had; the war now at her front steps…
Serefin, the crown prince of Tranavia and a powerful blood mage, has very little interest in anything but alcohol but now finds himself forced back home after being out on the war frontlines for many years, not looking forward to seeing his father once again, nor the new allies he’s sold his soul to…
And then there’s Malachiasz, a Tranavian defector with a lot going on behind his pale blue eyes, but it’s far from anything good, that much is certain.
Together, Nadya and Malachiasz form an uneasy alliance, and soon discover that dark and monstrous forces are scheming to find a new source of power that will help end the war, but the results could be catastrophic for everyone, and her duty as the cleric to help the gods once again spread their influence on the new world is definitely called into question.
We’re all monsters, Nadya,” Malachiasz said, his voice gaining a few tangled chords of chaos. “Some of us just hide it better than others.”— Emily A. Duncan, “Wicked Saints”
What I Liked:
- Malachiasz! A monster behind pale blue eyes, the defected Tranavian was definitely a noteworthy character to remember. He’s got a unique look to him too that makes him stick out amongst the many other YA-Fantasy anti-heroes, and not to give too much away, but also has a lot more going on beneath the surface. There was a specific chapter with him in an abandoned church when him, Nadya, and the others are on the run and he reveals another side of him; it was then when my intrigue grew for the book and said to myself “Okay…now this story’s gotten interesting!”
- Serefin! Another character I did enjoy was the crown prince of Tranavia; I’d even go as far as to say he’s also the character who had the most personality amongst the cast. He’s been out on the frontlines of the war for many years, and can usually be found with a half-drunk bottle of booze and making snide remarks about everything. What he also has going for him is how tired he is. This holy war has completely exhausted him, and it just really shows in his character with his actions and reactions to others. Considering how you meet him in this story, I didn’t think I’d like him as much as I ended up doing, but it happened!
- The Vultures! I’m not talking about the actual large, winged scavengers; they’re a mysterious and powerful cult of magical beings in Tranavia where not much else is known about them other than anguish and destruction follow them like a ripper in the dark. They’re heretics that never show their faces, and where ominous and unsettling iron masks, and I really enjoyed the creepy factor they added to the story!
What I Didn’t Like:
- I Didn’t Connect with Most of the Characters…Besides the two main characters listed above, I honestly didn’t really feel much for any of the other characters, including the heroine of the story, Nadya. I just didn’t catch up on any of their actual personalities, nor do I think they were really shown in the writing. There was potential for them, sure, but I feel like the author could’ve gone further and made them show a little more, or give them more attention into their backstory’s or agenda.
- The Forgotten About Competition…Now, I have just missed something in the book, but there’s a part of the story where there’s a competition amongst the female suitors vying for Serefin’s hand in marriage; Nadya hidden amongst them. It felt like this just got dropped or was forgotten about once certain information was discovered about the evil plots going on behind closed doors. Like I said, I could’ve missed a line where the reason this aspect didn’t continue, but I thought there was potential to have some more fun with it, but it just disappeared from the story after a certain point.
- The Forced Romance…A big story arc of this book was the enemies-to-lovers trope that forms between Nadya and Malachiasz, and while I am normally a big fan of this trope in fiction, this maybe wasn’t the best handling of it. Sure, they’re both on opposite sides of how the war came to be, they form an uneasy alliance to go into the capital of Tranavia and kill the king, and they realize there’s a growing attraction for each other. It just comes out of nowhere…no wait, actually more happens that should logically send the girl running away screaming into the cold night. She witnesses a glimpse of the monster underneath his skin, and while part of her is terrified and convinces herself the world would be safer without him, she can’t help but also feel something else, something that makes her drawn towards him all the same. Besides meaningful looks, I wasn’t entirely convinced about the romance buildup, and wished there was a deeper exploration of it. Maybe a scene or two more of them talking to understand each other more, perhaps put them in danger to have her save him in some way…I don’t know, just something! I also felt like Nadya became just too obsessed with Malachiasz, like she focused more on the contours of his face instead of remaining weary and worrying about the future of her country, or even the wellbeing of the monks who may or may not be dead from when the monastery gets ambushed. Part of me rolled my eyes at this, but I also remember that Nadya is only a sheltered 17-year-old girl who’s experiencing all this for the first in her life, and thats a big theme with YA-Fantasy, when these younger characters don’t always know how to handle these angst-filled situations.
Overall, I liked but didn’t love Wicked Saints. It’s pretty impressive for a debut novel, and it’s filled with major potential to become one of the top trilogies YA-Fantasy has to offer, but I really hope for more in the sequel, Ruthless Gods.
I do say I agree with the comparisons to Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, even if this story is heavily more religiously influenced, and I do think that most readers who enjoy her books will enjoy this one too.
While I didn’t love everything about it, I can say I am drawn enough into the story to want to keep reading on and seeing what happens next. The book ends with a little bit of cliffhanger after a sort of anti-climatic big confrontation, but it certainly raised some questions that I’m interested enough to want to seek answers for!
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell