BLOGTOBER Day 15: Review: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Establishing a centuries-old conflict between the two countries of Kalyazin and Tranavia, Wicked Saints is a dual perspective novel following a Kalyazi cleric and the Tranavian prince.
When we meet Nadya she’s in the cellar of the monastery where she lives, peeling potatoes as a punishment with her best friend, Kostya. They hear cannonfire in the distance and are dismayed to discover that the Tranavian army are at their door (despite the fact that the monastery is at the top of a very high mountain in the hidden depths of Kalyazin).
Serefin is the leader of the Tranavian army, and when Nadya flees the monastery he pursues her… Only to be called back to Tranavia by his father, the king, who has decided that it’s the perfect time to begin the search for a wife for Serefin. Such inconvenient timing!
On the road Nadya meets two Akolans and a Tranavian who are scheming to end the war. Nadya finds herself drawn to the Tranavian, Malachiasz, and subsequently drawn into his plot to infiltrate Tranavia and kill the king. Nadya must masquerade as one of the women vying for their shot at marrying Serefin, while trying not to completely alienate the Kalyazin gods who guide her.
Wicked Saints is a book which tries to do far too much.
I loved the fact that the story began with a bang, but I was hoping that Emily A. Duncan would work some lulls into the story to deeply craft her world. Unfortunately, it felt like the world-building was still lacking when the story finished, so I’m wondering whether this might be coming during one of the later installments. As the characters explore both Kalyazin and Tranavia you do get a bit of an idea about the differences between the countries, but although we travel with two characters from Akola their country is not described at all, which makes the world seem poorly fleshed out.
Before we know Nadya well enough to care about her character, her life has already been threatened multiple times and she’s managed to escape unscathed. Her ability to escape any situation eases a lot of the novel’s tension. Emily A. Duncan attempts to keep the adrenaline high for too long – ambushes, battles and bloodshed abound throughout the novel – but those scenes start to feel boring because they’re happening with such frequency.
Nadya is also mourning the loss of her friend Kostya, who is hardly described and only appears in a scene right at the beginning of the book. It’s hard for the reader to care about her loss. If the characters and location had been established before the action kicked off, this would have packed an emotional punch.
The magic in this novel can be quite triggering as it’s blood magic and involves the characters cutting themselves frequently, so if you’re opposed to reading scenes of self-harm or bloodletting then this is a book you should definitely avoid. Although I thought that the Tranavian blood magic system was well-crafted, Nadya’s magic was sorely lacking in substance; she calls upon many, many gods (I believe there were at least twelve, possibly more) and asks if she can use their powers for whatever she needs. Not only does this make Nadya a bit of a Mary Sue, but it also means that the gods aren’t fleshed out. Too many of them are introduced too quickly for them to have an impact, and I can only remember the name Marzenya out of all of the gods which were referenced (and I only finished the book yesterday!).
I did enjoy the fact that each chapter begins with an excerpt from a book from the world – primarily Vasiliev’s Book of Saints or the Codex of the Divine – because that added a lot of history to the world, but I was desperate for this to be more integrated into Nadya and Serefin’s story.
There’s a dramatic twist at the end of the book which was pretty predictable, but I was expecting it to be a twist on a twist (once you’ve read the book you’ll know EXACTLY what I was expecting to happen!) so I still found myself pleasantly surprised by the way that Emily A. Duncan concluded the first installment in the Something Dark and Holy trilogy. This wasn’t the best series opener that I’ve ever read, but it has a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes in the next two books.
If you’re a fan of the Grisha trilogy or The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, I think you’d enjoy this novel.
See you tomorrow!