Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Something dark and holy indeed.
❝ Some gods require blood. ❞
It is not every day that you come across a debut that would put to shame works of seasoned authors. Emily A. Duncan’s talent is otherworldly; through a blood-drenched combination of the sacred and the profane, through snowy landscapes painted with red and desecrated worship grounds, through cut-throat courts and ungodly romances, she weaves a sinister, haunting, deeply mesmerizing tale walking the line between damnation and salvation.
It is unsettling in its most addictive form.
❝ Blood and blood and bone. Magic and monsters and tragic power. ❞
A girl. A monster. A prince. A triangle of distrust, fascination, confusion and temptation, a web of lies, deceit and manipulation. Three young people that can either stop the Holy War that ravages their kingdoms or doom the world in eternal, devouring darkness. Nadezhda “Nadya” Lapteva is the first cleric, the first Kalyazin that can communicate with the gods and wield their divine powers in decades. She holds her country’s survival in her pale hands, but fate is cruel and leaves her in a precarious situation, having as her ally a monstrous boy whose intentions and objectives are always hidden. On the other hand there is Serefin Meleski, High Prince and Heir of Tranavia, the land of heretics that reaps the benefits of unholy blood magic, who sees his realm falling apart but can do nothing to stop it. The paths of the girl, the monster and the prince will cross when they decide that the king of Tranavia must be assassinated. But what if his death unleashes greater darkness that will destroy everything they hold dear?
❝ We’re all monsters, Nadya. Some of us hide it better than others. ❞
What makes you a monster? What is the cost of power? How can someone guided and protected by the gods her entire life make decisions that will endanger such relationship and the very existence of her powers? Emily A. Duncan does not give a straight answer. She simply creates multi-dimensional characters who experience inner conflict, who, with blood-stained hands and pointed teeth and sharp claws carve their place, betray, scheme, destroy and create in a Russian-inspired fantasy set in an intricate world tainted by the miasma of blood magic and war. The religious aspect is heavy and controversial. Reverence clashes with impiety. Emotions clash with reason. And a girl raised in a monastery in the doctrines of her religion will become something to fear.
It is true that Wicked Saints emits Grisha vibes, but Emily A. Duncan chooses a different path from Leigh Bardugo. She dives into the wicked, she basks in the unholy, thus creating an eerie ambience that crackles with tension, that smothers in black tendrils characters and reader alike. Narrated in dual perspective, the two sides of the war, Wicked Saints offers insight to the struggles of both Nadya and Serefin, the heroes of their respective nations, who must answer their existential questions and sacrifice their morals if it means peace. And then there is Malachiasz, the enigma, the parameter that will alter the course of mankind, the one who stirs forbidden thoughts. I must admit that in this wild ride I developed a soft spot for Serefin, the blood mage that’s torn and occasionally helpless against his demons and his enemies.
With Wicked Saints, Emily A. Duncan earned her righteous place among the authors who don’t hesitate to delve into darkness, blood and sacrilege, and I’m officially ensnared in her web.
*ARC generously provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*
Note: The quotes used in this review are from an uncorrected text and subject to changes.