Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

We’re all monsters, Nadya. Some of us just hide it better than others.

Wicked Saints pg. 233

What a strange book. I find myself pondering it with more interest after having finished it than I held the entire duration of time I spent reading it, mostly because I still can’t quite pinpoint why it didn’t work for me.

Because it really should have.

Quick Synopsis: Two nations at war, with very different beliefs and values (gods vs blood magic). Everyone wants the war to end, and will do anything they can to make that happen, even sacrificing what they hold most dear. Yet our characters somehow can’t overcome their differences or plan more than 2 steps ahead, so are constantly surprised while the reader is not.

  • Nadya (Nadezhda) aka “Let them fear who?”- Orphan, raised in a monastery, can talk to the gods, thinks everyone else are heretics, immediately forgets about her friends as soon as they are not around, not remotely scary in any way.
  • Malachiasz aka “Ky-NO Ren”- Okay, that was a bad pun, but so is Malachiasz. He is supposed to be based off of Kylo Ren, but I did not get that until I read the acknowledgements at the end, which is frustrating because I would have been so here for that!
  • Serefin aka “Discount Prince Zuko”- Prince of the neighboring kingdom of “blood mages”. Introduced as a dark, powerful blood mage he quickly dissolves into a mostly drunk and sarcastic character who uses humor as a defense mechanism- basically, my favorite of the lot.

This book has been all over my social media. I can’t login without seeing it’s dramatic white and blue cover. My own cover, courtesy of Owlcrate, is a dramatic black and red with perfect touches that make it very atmospheric. In short, it’s a gorgeous book.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover…

Wicked Saints attracted me because it was described as a dark, magical, bloody novel full of interesting characters who are lured too close to the dark side. All of that sounds amazing, and all of that is… technically true?

It was definitely dark and dramatic, and full of bloody imagery. While I can’t speak to it being interesting, there is blood everywhere– so if you are considering reading this book I hope you can stomach characters regularly slicing open their own limbs so they can spill their blood as liberally as paint.

And while I gradually grew desensitized to people draining their own or other people’s blood for power (only slightly alarming), I found that I just could not care about what happened to the characters.

The writing is discombobulating to a degree that was highly distracting. As soon as I got used to the characters and their place in the story the pacing jarred, the narration switched to different characters, and I had to try to become interested again from scratch. The pacing of this story really did not work for me.

I’ve heard the narration compared to George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which I haven’t read yet (*ducks as tomatoes are thrown*) but I have read Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, and that book jumped all over the place in terms of narration and I was straight-up hooked. I couldn’t wait to read what happened next to each and every character, and was excited when the narration would change so I could check in on how they all progressed in overcoming their struggles.

I never felt that with Wicked Saints. While it had some good moments, I mostly was disappointed because I was simply bored, and I can’t say I’ve really encountered that before. With books I didn’t enjoy in the past, I’ve felt rage or frustration, angst or impatience, but boredom to the point of not caring about the outcome of the climax or anything that happened to the characters was new to me.

The most interesting and least-explored aspect to this book was the bias held by the characters regarding their religions and cultures. Now this is a topic that flavors my everyday life, sometimes less optimistically than other times, and I was excited to see this get tackled. Here was an opportunity to really show the characters delving into understanding the others’ point of view, even if they couldn’t agree with each other. And they tried, boy, the author tried.

Yet each time their differences were addressed (read “the characters started arguing and insulting each other”) Nadya would get distracted by his gaze on her lips, their proximity to each other, suddenly stifling, and she’d blush and/or get flustered. Look, I’m a romantic at heart but even I was like, “punch him in the face, girl! He just insulted you!”

She blinked, startled. (…) She’d been too wrapped up in him to put the pieces together.”

Wicked Saints pg. 368

It’s clear Wicked Saints was not about overcoming cultural differences, which seems like a missed opportunity, but I still ponder what it actually was about. The tagline was “Let them fear her”, but Nadya was not developed enough to make her a fearsome character. I appreciated the author’s dedication of the book as a love letter “to all the girls who make messy decisions,” and maybe that is it, at it’s core. If you are okay with the heroine of your book making bad, messy decisions then maybe you will enjoy this book better than I did. It’s very clear a lot of people out there really did enjoy this book, and my intention is not to discourage any of those people from enjoying it, but simply to voice why I did not.

Maybe the aspects of this book that I felt were short-comings will grow and develop in the next book, but unfortunately I won’t be sticking around to find out.

Rating: 2 stars because I didn’t hate it? Congratulations, a bonus star due to lack of hate.

Published by francinewonders

Hi! My name is Francine and I spend a lot of time wandering about while wondering about stuff. I like to talk about cats, books, travel, and all things w@nderful. Follow me on Instagram: @francinewonders

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