YA Fantasy

My Review: Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy #1): by Emily A. Duncan

Publish Date: April 2nd, 2019
Number of Pages: 385 Pages
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

Heavily compared to the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, this YA-Fantasy trilogy has also been said by fans who shipped Alina Starkov with The Darkling will really enjoy this story, to which I can definitely agree with!

Fans of the genre have been drawn to this darkly gothic tale of a nation torn in half because of a holy war, and even Owlcrate created their own special editions of the books that honestly look even better than the originals. It’s got some Russian (Kalyazin) and Polish (Tranavia) inspiration in the ways of the two sparring countries, and fellow readers are really drawn to the different types of religions and how they’ve been such a huge driving force of the larger, outer conflict this story represents.

It starts off as a typical good-vs.-evil type of story, but as you read on, you realize its more of a group of morally grey characters, which to me, always makes for a more interesting story. Nadya is obviously supposed to be the hero of the story, but Serefin takes a little longer for you to feel the same way about him, and you honestly don’t know what to think about Malachiasz; the boy is an enigma. With just about any other fantasy story, you know all their own motivations involves gaining power and helping end the way by any means, but the more interesting part of that is the different ways they try to go about achieving that goal. Nadya could use a little more personification and personality in my opinion, but I did really enjoy the other two male characters; I could tell the author outdid herself with them as main characters.

**Spoiler Warning but also Trigger Warning!**

While it wasn’t a problem for me personally, there are some trigger warnings for more sensitive readers to be weary of before opening the pages of Wicked Saints. There are countless times in the book where characters induce self-harm on themselves by drawing blood. In Tranavia, blood magic is their game, and the mages keep sharp razor blades sewn into their sleeves to wipe into their spell books and cast spells to attack their enemies. Other trigger warnings include torture and parental abuse.

I would say my favorite aspects of this book were the two male main characters, Serefin and Malachiasz. Out of the characters, I felt they had the most fleshed out arcs and showed the most personality, and I hope the other characters—especially Nadya—catch up with them. I do have some disappointment with the romance of this story and how I just didn’t seem to really connect with all the other cast of characters. They were there, but there wasn’t anything quite so memorable about it.

What It’s About:

Some gods require blood.”

— Emily A. Duncan, “Wicked Saints”

The Official Blurb:

For almost over a century, Kalyazin and Tranavia have fought in a holy war, all based off one nation’s fear, but both sides have suffered major loss since its inception.

Nadya, a Kalyazin cleric who can commune with all their gods, is training in supposed secrecy at a monastery deep in the mountains by priests who sought to wield the power inside her into the one that could save Kalyazin from sinking to its knees. A sudden Tranavian attack on them destroys any sense of safety she’s had; the war now at her front steps…

Serefin, the crown prince of Tranavia and a powerful blood mage, has very little interest in anything but alcohol but now finds himself forced back home after being out on the war frontlines for many years, not looking forward to seeing his father once again, nor the new allies he’s sold his soul to…

And then there’s Malachiasz, a Tranavian defector with a lot going on behind his pale blue eyes, but it’s far from anything good, that much is certain.

Together, Nadya and Malachiasz form an uneasy alliance, and soon discover that dark and monstrous forces are scheming to find a new source of power that will help end the war, but the results could be catastrophic for everyone, and her duty as the cleric to help the gods once again spread their influence on the new world is definitely called into question.

We’re all monsters, Nadya,” Malachiasz said, his voice gaining a few tangled chords of chaos. “Some of us just hide it better than others.”

— Emily A. Duncan, “Wicked Saints”

What I Liked:

  1. Malachiasz! A monster behind pale blue eyes, the defected Tranavian was definitely a noteworthy character to remember. He’s got a unique look to him too that makes him stick out amongst the many other YA-Fantasy anti-heroes, and not to give too much away, but also has a lot more going on beneath the surface. There was a specific chapter with him in an abandoned church when him, Nadya, and the others are on the run and he reveals another side of him; it was then when my intrigue grew for the book and said to myself “Okay…now this story’s gotten interesting!”
  2. Serefin! Another character I did enjoy was the crown prince of Tranavia; I’d even go as far as to say he’s also the character who had the most personality amongst the cast. He’s been out on the frontlines of the war for many years, and can usually be found with a half-drunk bottle of booze and making snide remarks about everything. What he also has going for him is how tired he is. This holy war has completely exhausted him, and it just really shows in his character with his actions and reactions to others. Considering how you meet him in this story, I didn’t think I’d like him as much as I ended up doing, but it happened!
  3. The Vultures! I’m not talking about the actual large, winged scavengers; they’re a mysterious and powerful cult of magical beings in Tranavia where not much else is known about them other than anguish and destruction follow them like a ripper in the dark. They’re heretics that never show their faces, and where ominous and unsettling iron masks, and I really enjoyed the creepy factor they added to the story!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I Didn’t Connect with Most of the Characters…Besides the two main characters listed above, I honestly didn’t really feel much for any of the other characters, including the heroine of the story, Nadya. I just didn’t catch up on any of their actual personalities, nor do I think they were really shown in the writing. There was potential for them, sure, but I feel like the author could’ve gone further and made them show a little more, or give them more attention into their backstory’s or agenda.
  2. The Forgotten About Competition…Now, I have just missed something in the book, but there’s a part of the story where there’s a competition amongst the female suitors vying for Serefin’s hand in marriage; Nadya hidden amongst them. It felt like this just got dropped or was forgotten about once certain information was discovered about the evil plots going on behind closed doors. Like I said, I could’ve missed a line where the reason this aspect didn’t continue, but I thought there was potential to have some more fun with it, but it just disappeared from the story after a certain point.
  3. The Forced Romance…A big story arc of this book was the enemies-to-lovers trope that forms between Nadya and Malachiasz, and while I am normally a big fan of this trope in fiction, this maybe wasn’t the best handling of it. Sure, they’re both on opposite sides of how the war came to be, they form an uneasy alliance to go into the capital of Tranavia and kill the king, and they realize there’s a growing attraction for each other. It just comes out of nowhere…no wait, actually more happens that should logically send the girl running away screaming into the cold night. She witnesses a glimpse of the monster underneath his skin, and while part of her is terrified and convinces herself the world would be safer without him, she can’t help but also feel something else, something that makes her drawn towards him all the same. Besides meaningful looks, I wasn’t entirely convinced about the romance buildup, and wished there was a deeper exploration of it. Maybe a scene or two more of them talking to understand each other more, perhaps put them in danger to have her save him in some way…I don’t know, just something! I also felt like Nadya became just too obsessed with Malachiasz, like she focused more on the contours of his face instead of remaining weary and worrying about the future of her country, or even the wellbeing of the monks who may or may not be dead from when the monastery gets ambushed. Part of me rolled my eyes at this, but I also remember that Nadya is only a sheltered 17-year-old girl who’s experiencing all this for the first in her life, and thats a big theme with YA-Fantasy, when these younger characters don’t always know how to handle these angst-filled situations.

Conclusion:

Overall, I liked but didn’t love Wicked Saints. It’s pretty impressive for a debut novel, and it’s filled with major potential to become one of the top trilogies YA-Fantasy has to offer, but I really hope for more in the sequel, Ruthless Gods.

I do say I agree with the comparisons to Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, even if this story is heavily more religiously influenced, and I do think that most readers who enjoy her books will enjoy this one too.

While I didn’t love everything about it, I can say I am drawn enough into the story to want to keep reading on and seeing what happens next. The book ends with a little bit of cliffhanger after a sort of anti-climatic big confrontation, but it certainly raised some questions that I’m interested enough to want to seek answers for!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: Something Dark and Holy Trilogy by Emily A. Duncan

Image courtesy of Instagram profile @queenofthefaebaes

So I’ve started these books because it seems like they’ve gotten a lot of attention from the YA-Fantasy fandom since the first book, Wicked Saints, released in 2019. Heck, even the monthly subscription box, Owlcrate, has made their own exclusive editions (pictured above) for us readers to enjoy! It’s been said that this trilogy is perfect for those that shipped Alina Starkov and the Darkling from Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, and it was that comparison that had me sold to dig into these, and not just because of the gorgeous covers!

Here’s the blurb of book #1, Wicked Saints:

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.

My book reviews are coming soon!

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Here’s my official Fancast/Dreamcast:

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Serefin Meleski: Christian Balic, or Tomas Skoloudik

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile
Image courtesy of the actor’s Instagram profile

In my honest opinion, both of these models have the look of the Tranavian Prince who attacks Nadya’s monastery in the very first chapter of Wicked Saints, but is just so tired of war. He’s an interesting character, plus he’s snarky with the dark hair/light eyes combo, so is anyone really surprised that I love him?

Ostyia: Marcella Tanaya

Credit to owner

This model from Indonesia has been a top fancast name for Amren from author Sarah J. Maas’s bestselling series A Court of Thorns and Roses, but I think she also makes a great choice to play Serefin’s second in command. Her looks alone can kick some serious ass!

Kacper: Mena Massoud

Image courtesy of daman.com

The face of the live-action Disney favorite, Aladdin, this actor once mentioned how he hasn’t found much work since that film released, so maybe he’d find a role as Serefin’s buddy if they decided to make Wicked Saints into a movie?

Anna: Billie Lourd

Image courtesy of Ramona Rosales, for THR annual class photo

The daughter of the late Carrie Fischer, I’ve loved her ever since she’s joined the recurring cast of American Horror Story, plus she’s been in the show Scream Queens, and the recent film, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Rashid: Flamur Ukshini

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile

Flamur is a gorgeous Instagram model who was discovered because of his uncanny resemblance to former One Direction singer, Zayn Malik. To keep things not so mainstream, lets pick this model instead to play the Akolan who befriended Malachiasz.

Parijanham: Shiva Negar

Image courtesy of modelmayhem.com

She was most notably seen in the Vince Flynn novel-turned-movie American Assassin, and I think she’d be a great pick for the role of the strong and brave female Akolan in the series.

King Izak Meleski: Mark Strong

To be honest, I’m not too familiar with this actor or any movies he’s been in, but another book-blog (booksrealwhenshared) fancasted him as the King of Tranavia, and after I’d met the character in the book myself, I could definitely agree with their choice of actor! I also totally agree with their similar casting of Mena Massoud as Kacper!

Zaneta: Meaghan Rath

Image courtesy of the actress’s IMDB profile

This actress has been in shows like the Hawaii 5-0 remake, Being Human, and she’s guest starred on two of my favorite shows: New Girl and Schitt’s Creek!

Nadya Lapteva: Elle Evans, Sophie Turner, or Jennifer Lawrence

Image courtesy of elleevansofficial.com
Image courtesy of Elle Magazine
Image courtesy of VOGUE Magazine

I would be happy with any of these three gorgeous blondes being our MC of this gothic YA Fantasy trilogy. Elle is a model that just fits the physical descrption of Nadya, Sophie does too and was an amazing Sansa Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones, and maybe the odds are ever in Jennifer Lawrence’s favor if she wanted the role if this book was ever turned into a movie!

Malachiasz: Nicholas Hoult, or Arthur Gosse

Image courtesy of http://www.theplace2.ru
Image courtesy of the model’s Twitter profile

Malachiasz was easily the hardest character to cast for these books! I couldn’t find anyone who perfectly matched the physical description of my favorite character, so I’d be more than okay if either of these two men were to be casted as him; let’s just slap a long-haired wig on them and call it good! Nicholas Hoult is an extremely versatile actor who I adore; he’s been in movies like Warm Bodies, Mad Max: Fury Road, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and Tolkien.

So, there you have it! Now this is a fancasting made only based off the first book, so I’m sure there will be other notable characters that appear later on that I haven’t personally met yet. Be sure to check back, as I will add more characters as I continue to read the series!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell