Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy, #1)by Emily A. Duncan Published 02 Apr 2019
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A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.
A prince in danger must decide who to trust.
A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.
Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.
In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy..
"Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy, #1)" Reviews
ARC given to me by my kind friend - Lilly at Lair of Books!
“If you fall to him the war will be lost. You have to live, Nadya.”
I’m going to be really honest with you all; I feel like Wicked Saints is the book of my heart. From the lyrical writing, to the cold atmosphere, to the beautiful themes, to the characters that I’d already be willing to give my life for; this book just felt like it was written for me. This debut fantasy, all about blood magic and a cleric who can speak to all the gods (be still, my wishful D&D heart), blew me and my expectations out of the water.
The author very much pulls from Russian and Polish inspiration and we get to see two countries, the Russian inspired Kalyazin, and the Polish inspired Tranavia. There is also the desert lands of Akola, which we meet a few characters from, but I think the land will be explored much more in later books! But we quickly see how differently the first two places view religion, and how both nations are willing to do whatever it takes in the name of their 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.
“Cannons only meant one thing: blood magic. And blood magic meant Tranavians.”
But this tale starts out with a girl who has lived and hidden within the protection of a monastery’s walls her entire life. She has a power unlike any other, and it is her people's hope to not only restore the faith of the gods, but bring them back into power. Yet, there are people who are willing to do anything to make sure the gods and their religion(s) stay silenced forever. And one night, the girl’s monastery is brutally attacked, and she and her friend barely escape with their lives, while everyone else stayed back to ensure they could run away. Yet, the war commander prince notices that this girl is not among the dead. The girl, desperate to live and to not have the gods be silenced, is willing to do anything it takes to live. Even if that means getting help from a powerful rebel mage, who is harboring many secrets of his own.
“The girl, the monster, and the prince…”
➽ Nadya - The cleric who can speak to all of the gods.
➽ Malachiasz - A blood mage, who believes he is 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.
(Breathtaking art by Therese at warickaart!)
And all three of these characters? As morally grey as they come. And they all equally stole my heart. Okay, maybe I have a little bit of a soft spot for Serefin, but I can’t help it, okay? But there is more disability and sexual representation with some of the side characters, and many characters of color. I am truly in love with all the side characters, and I can’t wait to see them develop even more, but Ostyia was easily my favorite and the author confirmed she is a tiny murder lesbian, and I’ve never read anything so perfect in all my life.
Okay, I’m going to spend a little more time talking about Nadya because I truly was obsessed with how the author crafted religion and the saints in this book. First off, I’m Catholic, so you know that I fuck hard with saints, anyways. But, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I have played probably over a hundred D&D campaigns in my life, and I swear to all the gods that I have probably rolled a cleric at least 50 of those campaigns. Seriously, teenage Melanie (and her Pathfinder loving friends) was obsessed with Sarenrae. But reading a book about a cleric who could speak to ALL the gods, and harness their powers if they allowed it? I am quaking. Also, the banter between Nadya and all the different gods, all of whom have very different personalities, was probably my favorite element of the entire book.
Again, this is a very dark book and I implore you to read my trigger and content warnings listed down below if you are on the fence if you are in the right headspace or not. 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. I loved this. I loved this so much. It is something that I feel you see so much in D&D and videogames, but never in literature and I really think it was expertly done and completely made the book for me.
I feel like I should talk about the romance, since I see many early reviewers not loving it as much as I seemed to. I always thought Nadya was the star of this book, regardless of who she was developing feelings for. I mean, you all know I always fall in love with the one the main character doesn’t pick, so there is that, but I still loved the romance in this book. Also, I kind of hinted a bit about this in the character breakdowns, but when Serefin was following the king’s wishes to find a marriage? I was invested, friends. Too invested, probably. But during all the situations, the angst almost killed me, in the best way possible, and I can’t wait to see where the author takes everything in book two. It was the perfect slow burn feeling, while giving us so many breadcrumbs that all tasted delicious.
Overall, this book just had too many things in my personal wheelhouse for me not to completely fall in love with it. I mean, I originally heard this pitched as “a gothic Joan of Arc” and I knew from that moment my life was going to be changed. I think Emily A. Duncan has really crafted such a unique story, and such a beautiful debut and start of a series. I can’t wait to see what comes next, especially because the end of this book truly slayed me and every emotion I have ever had.
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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Content and Trigger Warnings for self-harm (both as a magic system, and talk of self-harm in the past), torture, parental abuse, abandonment, abduction, a lot of alcohol consumption (maybe addiction), gore, violence, and war themes.
Buddy read with Jocelyn at Yogi with a Book! ❤
OMG! OMG! OMG! PLEASE LET ME LOVE THIS......
Thank goodness I loved the book! Let just give you a little skinny on the book first before I tell you WHY I love it.
The book starts out with a bang; action right out of the gates. We have Nadya, she's a cleric and has been hiding in a monastery forever! She has powers and some peeps found out about her and all hell broke loose. She has to go on the run with a friend in order to not be killed or captured for other horrible reasons.
We have Serefin who is a Prince and a mage and he is after Nadya. The POV's are his and Nadya's but we get other characters through their story lines.
Then we have Malachiasz who is another mage character and from the same place as Serefin, but who helps Nadya and her friend get from point A to point B.
I loved the book in the very beginning but the only reason I kept loving it is because I fell in love with the villian! Yes, you heard it first here people. And there are actually a few villians in the book.
I also love the Vultures! They are bad guys and girls in the book as well. What is it with me and the bad guys! I don't always love them so there!
I am interested to see where this will go in the next book because that ending had me "shook" and I'm not over it yet. I hope that it gets better and doesn't suffer from second book syndrome!
*Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for a digital copy of this book to review.*
“He was a liar and she wanted his truths.”
Trigger Warnings: Self-harm and parental abuse. The author has been very vocal about it – which I appreciate – so readers, just be aware before diving in. Please take care of yourselves!
Most clerics hear the voice of one god who grants them a particular power. Nadya, however, hears the voices of all the gods, and they all grant her power when she asks – which puts a target on her head. The opening pages immediately set the tone, where we’re thrown into the middle of a war as Nadya’s monastery is attacked by an enemy prince – a dangerous blood mage. Nadya is forced to flee and leave behind the only friends she’s ever known because if she stays, he could kill her and take her power.
While on the run, she ends up alongside a group of rebels (for lack of better words) who want to end the war. Their ‘leader’, Malachiasz, convinces Nadya to help them infiltrate the enemy palace… and that’s all I’m going to say. Since we’re nearly a year from the release, I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. What I loved were all the twists and turns, the characters that beg you to trust them when deep down, you know you probably shouldn’t. I love finding new morally gray (or are they?) characters to root for. Nadya reminded me a little of Alina from Shadow and Bone (my favorite series – in fact, I think I caught some nods/references – heyooo). I will add though - don't go in this expecting the Darkling.
There was a heavy focus on magic and religion and the theological debates that accompany them. In fact, I often found myself switching sides on who was right, who was wrong, and who Nadya should trust (and if she should trust herself). The magic system was unlike anything I’ve read before, and same for the world. Though inspired by Russia (and Poland if my assumptions are correct), it totally stands on its own.
What I loved most was the ‘anything can happen’ fast-paced plot that had me turning pages like nobody’s business. From the first chapter, I was totally swept away and there was no turning back. And trust me when I say the world is dark dark dark (probably the darkest I’ve read), which after following Emily on twitter, I think she’d take that as a compliment 😉
On that note, I highly suggest taking a look at fanart to get a good feel for the vibe! Click here to see it!
The hardest part about having read it is that I’ll have to wait forever for the next book.
*A huge thank you to Wednesday Books for this gorgeous early edition, and allowing me to read and review!
*All quotes are subject to change in the final copy*
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This is for everyone who shipped Alina and The Darkling. WHICH MEANS THIS BOOK IS FOR ME, OKAY? NO TOUCHIE. MINE. ahem.
It's like if you go into a snow-dusted forest to free a beautiful maiden/dude from a glass casket only when you get there, that person has been devoured and this glorious, talon-ed creature with killer hair, a only-way-to-get-rid-of-my-smirk-is-to-kiss-me mouth, and eyes so dark they look like a freaking dimension is chilling on top of said casket, which is now smashed to pieces on a snow-strewn floor, and you just stand there, nodding and say: "Aight. I'm into it."
That's this book.
'we are all monsters, nadya. some of us just hide it better than others.'
this book is so seductively dark and holy, so gothically bloody, so cruelly romantic; and my black soul has never been happier. 🖤
the strength of this story is the magic, the ferocious yet satisfying magic. hands down. the characters are brutally intense and beautifully developed, but its how magic affects them and their world that is so captivating. the entire plot is driven by the opposing beliefs about the nature of magic and i thought emily duncan did a great job at bringing that struggling debate to life. its impressively well thought-out and a real high point to the story.
i will admit this isnt without faults. the romance is a very insta-lovey and the writing can get confusing/muddled at times, but there is such a strong foundation here that i know great things can be expected from the future installments of this series.
also, the physical aesthetic of this book is so drop dead gorgeous, it makes me want to cry. the incandesce foil artwork, the colour tones, the spine, and overall design is just so much, i cant stop looking at it. this gets 5 stars for that alone!
↠ 4.5 stars
I hate writing 3 star reviews. There, I said it. It's not because I don't think that they hold weight in the reviewing world, I just feel that those middle of the road reads are the most difficult to review without sounding like a 2nd grade book report. This book was fine. It was not great, but it was fine. Fine is how this book was. That said, I apologize for the following review and if it sounds repetitive and lacks flavor or conviction.
I'm between a 3-4 star rating here, but I think I'm going to have to round down based on my personal reading experience. There's nothing wrong with this book, but I did find everything but the beginning and final 25% to be a tedious read. My deciding factor on a rating was mostly influenced by the fact that this felt very much like grisha fan fiction. Don't get me wrong, I love Leigh Bardugo's fantasy world and stand by my opinion that The Darkling is one of the most well written anti-heroes of all time, so I was surprised that Wicked Saints wasn't an automatic 5 star read for me. Did I swoon for the villain in this book? I definitely see the attraction to him, but maybe because I've already experienced a carbon copy of this plot, coupled with the fact that these characters felt inspired by our grisha love triangle, kept me from being as drawn in as I could have been.
I'm not sure if the ending was supposed to catch us off guard, but I also found that if you've read Shadow and Bone, you'll already know what's going to happen and find a similar set up to what I imagine will be a similar trilogy from start to finish. The ending was action packed and deliciously dark (yes, this one is much darker than the grisha trilogy, despite its obvious similarities), and the epilogue was everything I could have dreamed of and more. Despite my conflicted feelings, I highly recommend others pick this one up and to decide for themselves how they perceive Wicked Saints, as I am eager to continue on with the author.
*I received a review copy via the publisher.