Arc provided by Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review.
Content/Trigger Warning: War, death/murder, violence, fighting, self-harm (both for a magical system and talk of self-harm in the past), torture, parental abuse, abandonment, abduction, use of alcohol (possible alcohol addiction), gore, talk of human sacrifice, strong religious fighting.
You can find my first review of this books on my GoodReads.
“You could be exactly what these countries need to stop their fighting. Or you could rip them apart at the seams.”
Let me start this review off by saying how much this book took me by storm! This has been an anticipated book for so many people and I wasn’t expecting to become someone obsessed with this book, but here we are and now I feel like no other book can compare. From the lyrical writing to characters that captivate you with a strong pull, to the beautiful descriptions of the themes: this book sunk it’s talons into me and has found a place within my heart. This debut fantasy, filled with blood magic and a cleric born to serves the gods (if this doesn’t give you D&D or role playing game vibes then I don’t know what will), blew me sky high and then some!
The author pulls from Russian and Polish inspiration and we get two countries, the Russian inspired Kalyazin, and the Polish inspired Tranavia. We also get the deserts of Akola, which we meet a few characters from, but there’s vibes within this book that those deserts will be explored in later books. With this book being so fast paced, we quickly realized how different these two countries are from one another when it comes to religion. We see how far each country is willing to go in the name of their religious beliefs. These two countries are warring, and the author never shies away from that, but they are also beautifully woven together to create such an immersive and captivating world and setting.
“Are we so different, Nadya?” He lifted his hand, fingers tipped with long claws, and pressed his thumb against her lips. “We both long for freedom. For power. For a choice. We both want to see our kingdoms survive.”
Our tale begins with a girl who has lived and hidden with the protection of a monastery’s walls for her entire life. She has power unlike any other, and it’s her people’s only hope to not only restore the faith of the gods, but bring them back into power. Yet, there are plenty of people willing to do anything to make sure the goods and their religion(s) stay silenced forever. And as fate would have it, the girl’s world is turned upside down when her monastery is brutally attacked by the enemy. She and her friend barely escape with their lives, while everyone stays behind to ensure they can flee to safety. Yet, the cunning prince commander quickly learns the girl is not among the dead. The girl desperate to live and not to have her gods be silenced, is willing to do almost anything to live. Even if that means getting help from a powerful rebel mage, who has many skeletons hidden away in his closet.
“The girl, the monster, and the prince…”
Nadya – The cleric who can speak to all the gods
Malachiasz – A blood mage, who believes he’s a monster
Serefin – Bisexual icon: Also, a blood mage prince of one of the most powerful realms in this world, but the king is trying to ensure that no one can contest his power, while also wanting to use his son as a martial pawn. He also has a visual impairment and is unable to see out of one of his eyes.
All three of these characters? They’re all morally grey characters who have all stolen my heart. Okay, let me be honest…I may be a bit bias towards Malachiasz, but maybe I just connect with him a lot more than the other characters. Although Nadya comes pretty darn close. We do get more disability and sexual representation by some of the side characters. If I could tell you how many times my bi-radar went off, you would be shouting at me like “Calm down!” We also get many characters of color to add even more diversity into this outstanding book. I can’t wait to watch these characters bloom and flourish in later books! However, I may have a soft spot for Ostyia who the author did confirm is a tiny, murder lesbian and as a short, bisexual girl myself….this has given me absolute life! I’m always here for fierce, kick-butt ladies of sexual representation!
Okay, I’m hear to dish on our main girl Nadya a little more because my nerdy self has to gush a little. Also, I really loved how the author crafted the religion and the saints of this book. Truly beautiful and fascinating. First off, I come from a vary colorful religious background of my family being divided into Christian, Catholic, and Apache faith/religion. So you know I come from a very diverse upbringing. However, on the opposite spectrum of that, I have played so much D&D, Pathfinder, done a lot of misc. role playing, and even to this day still do LARPing. And I kid you not, I have always had characters who are clerics, healers, and (in opposite contrast to those blood mages) my most favorite and recent character I LARP as, rogue mage. Seriously, my nerdy-self can’t contain my hype for a book with mages and a cleric who can speak to the the gods. A cleric who has been blessed by the divine (holy cow, YES!). Also, the fact that we get so many moments of Nadya and her banter with these gods, all of whom have different characteristics and personalities, was probably one of my most favorite elements the author has added to this book! I loved it!
Once again, let me take this time to express how dark of a book this is. Please see my content warning above because self-care is so important when reading these topics. It took me so long to get through this book because I had to take time to process what I was reading and making sure I was caring for my mental health. But one of the major magic systems in this book is blood magic, where people will use their own blood (most of the time, freshly cut) and merge it with pages of a spell book to be able to wield their prepared spells and harness their magic. This is something I feel is so heavily represented in D&D, there are a lot of Lovecraft theme board games that feature this, and even some video games will feature it. And I loved every second of it because I’m so familiar with the blood mage characteristics. The author did an exemplary job of weaving the true power of the blood mage into this book.
“Dazzle the monsters, Nadya. You’ve already charmed the worst of the lot; the rest should be easy.”
I feel like I need to talk about the romance in this book because I didn’t even realize it was happening until I was near the end and I was shook! Now, let me say this because I know a lot of early reviewers who have read this book and didn’t love this romance….this type of romance is an acquired taste. You’re either going to love it or you’re going to say fuck this. That’s just how that type of romance goes. For me, I live for a dark, forbidden, “evil and good” type romance. I live for it, I eat this romance for breakfast. I will go as far as saying I married a chaotic neutral person (which if you’re a nerd and have played D&D, you know what I’m talking about here). Reading this book, even though we had two POVs, I always assumed Nadya was the star of this book. The pull to her was a lot greater than Serefin. So regardless of who Nadya who she would develop feelings for. If you’ve been around my reviews and myself, then you know I always go for the first character who spells trouble with a capital ‘T’. So, when Malachiasz started getting closer and closer to each other…I was so here for it. This book had me thinking that Nadya was about to be made Queen and I was losing it when Malachiasz scooped Nadya, told everyone to fuck off, and put her to bed. Their slow burn, friend-enemy romance was so delicious and I devoured that. So naturally, the way this book ended left me as a husk.
Overall, this book just landed too many punches in my personal arsenal. My only issue with this book was the ending. I felt like there were far too many unanswered questions and it didn’t even leave off on a cliffhanger. But that epilogue just about killed me. The author did an amazing job making the epilogue from The Black Vulture’s point of view. I really think Emily A. Duncan has crafted such a unique book that will make readers wanting more. Wicked Saints is such a beautiful debut and just a hard punch for starting off this series. I can’t wait to see what Emily has in-store for us in the next book, especially since this ending left so many things unanswered and left so many broken pieces of my heart scattered all over the pages.
“We’re all monsters, Nadya, some of us just hide it better than others.”
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.