book review: wicked saints by emily a. duncan

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Wednesday Books, 400 pp.
Published April 2, 2019

DISCLAIMER: I received a free eARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes. This did not inform or influence my opinion in any way.

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.

You'll LOVE it want to see gods and monsters do battle.

I absolutely ADORE entangling god-like beings in a story as real, accessible, touchable characters. (For other examples, see my love of Claire Legrand's Empirium trilogy or Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials universe.) This stuff is very much My Thing and this antagonistic triangle between mortals, monsters, and gods develops with some of the most enticingly menacing tension I've read in recent months. Although it's a little easier to choose which nation to sympathize with in the on-going war, Emily focuses in on the soldiers, spiritual and militaristic, who actually have to defend the broader ideologies at play. At such a personal level, reader loyalties become complicated and almost impossible to untangle. As the plot progresses, one even begins to wonder if the characters are allies of their gods, pawns, or slowly gaining control over them. While the interpersonal battles dominate Wicked Saints, it's this grander experiment with belief, obedience, and free will that interests me most as the Something Dark and Holy trilogy unfolds.

You'll LIKE it appreciate snarky banter.

The majority of witty dialogue comes courtesy of Malaschiaz, the is-he-or-isn't-he-a-bad-guy figure in Nadya's journey. At its best and most sparkling, the barbs traded between the pair will elicit out loud laughter...not a common occurrence for me when reading. However, not all of the banter worked for me — in general, I was expecting and hoping for a graver tone throughout the novel. This could be a result of whatever reading style I've developed, though. In almost every other book I've read that deals with a serious plot and not-always-serious characters, the cheeky dialogue can sometimes fall flat. It classifies as a slight mismatch between reader and book rather than a shortcoming in the story itself, since this is something consistently inconsistent across books for me. And for those who loved the back-and-forth in Six of Crows or The Gilded Wolves, Wicked Saints serves up its own, macabre rendition.

You MAY NOT LIKE it need a clear "good guy" to root for.

This is actually a huge positive for me as a reader. I love morally ambiguous — or downright bad — characters that authors can coax me into sympathizing with and rooting for. The bad guys in real life...well, they hurt real people and only inspire melancholy, at best. Which is why I consider novels like Wicked Saints such a gift: I get to witness the indulgence of greed, wrath, lust, and all the other deadly sins without a modicum of guilt or a single twinge of my conscience! In my opinion, the best fiction makes it feel good to be bad. I explain all of this knowing that there are other readers who prefer a sunnier outlook and stories with a clear line drawn between good and evil. If that's your overall taste, or just the mood you're in today, Wicked Saints won't satisfy it. But for those who appreciate a little darkness in their books (or who, like me, crave it), Emily has provided an absolute smorgasbord to feast on.


Recommended for fans of SHADOW AND BONE, THE CRUEL PRINCE, and FURYBORN.

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