It’s easy to understand why WICKED SAINTS by Emily A. Duncan is on the New York Times bestseller list. Lush worldbuilding, high stakes and well-written narratives create a page-turner that will delight fans of Game of Thrones and fans of Leigh Bardugo, Morgan Rhodes and Victoria Aveyard.
In the land of Kalyazin, cleric Nadezhda (Nadya) Lapteva is a rare being–able to commune with the Gods of her land directly and destined to save the country from an all consuming war. When a devastating attack takes away everything Nadya knows and loves, she must work with the enemy, a runaway blood mage named Malachiasz, in a dangerous plot to turn the tide of the war and infiltrate the heretical country of Tranavia.
Meanwhile, Serefin Meleski, the high prince of Tranavia, a powerful blood mage and general of the army is called back home suddenly after a botched attempt to capture Kalyazin’s only cleric, the only person who may be able to save his enemy. When he returns after years on the front, he’s confronted by a sense of foreboding as his father has aligned himself with the Vultures, a religious cult that even he, a powerful blood mage himself, is wary of.
Through these two point of views, readers are treated to the inner workings of both cultures and the desperate actions both sides are willing to take to save their countries and gain power over their mortal limitations.
Nadya is a headstrong character, devout after being raised in a monastery. After losing her closest friends and the people she thought of as family, she vows revenge on the Tranavians who attacked her home. I really enjoyed reading her point-of-view. Her chemistry with the other characters–Malachiasz, Rashid and Parijahan was well-written and realistic. Found families are my favorite tropes and these characters, misfits and outcasts, broken teenagers struggling together for one lofty and high-stakes goal, worked well together. Their relationships grew in a natural and cohesive way. I wish we had been treated to Rashid and Parijahan’s point of view–I really enjoyed them.
Serefin’s friends were also fascinating and illuminated his character just as much as Nadya’s. I really loved the scenes we we spent time with Ostyia and Kacper, Serefin’s loyal guards and fellow soliders, as they fretted and worried about their prince, while also treating him as the teenage boy he was.
My favorite character was Malachiasz and I wish I could elaborate here but I won’t because of spoilers. Just know that he was well-written and compelling and fans of bad boy types likes Mal and Kylo Ren will cheer when they encounter him. I hope we get a point of view of his in the next book!
These characters and their relationships helped offset some of the weighty-ness that comes with a book primarily about war and blood and the promise of death.
That brings me to my next point. A note of warning: if you’re at all squeamish of blood, I would avoid this book. There’s a lot of discussion of blood (as Tranavian’s magical system depends on it) and the book does get gory at times. That being said, the way Emily Duncan created each magic system was really fascinating. It was wholly unique and unlike any other fantasy book I’ve ever read.
Overall, this book was really enjoyable. Fast-paced, you might get whip-lash from the way the plot takes off. I felt like I didn’t have a moment to breathe while reading it. I was left wanting more of something at the end–maybe all due to a character development I didn’t want to see coming–but I have high hopes that the promised sequels make up for it. I’m looking forward to what Emily Duncan has in store for these characters and cannot wait to learn what happens next.