Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Genre: YA Fantasy
CW/TW: self-harm, parental abuse, alcohol addiction
Brief summary: Nadya is the MC of the story, she’s grown up in a monastery and has the ability to communicate with a number of gods and goddesses, but her country is deeply entrenched in a war between what I can conclude are the sorcerers wielding magic for themselves against the priests who consider magic of the gods. Nadya is pursued by the Serefin, the High Prince and a powerful blood mage. Nadya escapes when her monastery gets blown to smithereens by the High Prince and then she decides she needs to turn back and fight for her beliefs. She teams up (reluctantly) with Malachiasz, another blood mage she doesn’t trust at first because he’s supposedly from Serefin’s side but he’s got his own motivations for wanting to help bring down the empire.
The setting was really interesting, like a mix of Poland and Russia, and it reminded me a great deal of the Grishaverse trilogies. The twists were unpredictable enough that they were enough to invoke a passionate reaction, whether it was “OH HELL YES” or “WHAT IN THE WHAT?!” The complex mix of magic into religion and politics kept my intrigue, and as it progressed further, it felt like Nadya’s character was starting to doubt her own beliefs and as the reader, I felt that doubt and disbelief strongly along with her. Can she really harness the energy of all these gods or is it actually something else entirely?
Serefin is obviously morally grey (well, they all are but I think he portrayed it the most), and I think for that reason, he became one of my favorite characters to read. Most of what he does is obligation to his father but he doubts so many of his motivations, and it’s obvious that Serefin isn’t particularly malicious — he’s just looking out for the best of his country as the High Prince! Whether there is going to be any particular love triangle between him and the other two characters is up in the air right now, but regardless, I’m rooting for a happy ending for him.
There is a pretty fair grasp of representation in this book, of sexualities and of disabilities. Is there a person of color? So I’ve heard but I don’t think that part was too apparent from what I read. Possibly Rashid but I’m only basing that off of his name. Serefin himself is visually impaired with the inability to see from one eye.
Now for why I didn’t rate this an immediate five-stars: the romance between Malachiasz and Nadya seemed so predictable and so forced. I couldn’t get invested in it, because it was almost instant. From the first few pages of their interaction, it seemed like Nadya was already sizing him up, despite the fact that he was some kind of monster. Or maybe that’s why she was sizing him up (forbidden love?). There was potential for it to be interesting if it was expanded, and I say this honestly, because the scenes between the two of them, especially once his Monster Backstory came out, were just boring. I wanted to rush through those pages and go back to Serefin’s PoV.
I would say one of my more favorites parts in this story is the fact that Nadya can communicate with the gods and Duncan writes out the dialogue. The gods all have differing personalities and powers, and being such a sucker for Greek mythology stories as I am, I enjoyed the hell out of stories with humanized gods with a variety of personality traits and levels of stubbornness in helping out mortals.
By the way, I would die for bisexual icon Serefin. This is important.
I would still recommend this to people especially if you liked the Grisha Trilogy (I did), and you might like it better than I did if you shipped Alina with the Darkling (I didn’t). It’s a pretty worthy read, and I am looking forward to the sequel coming out in 2020.