(Something Dark and Holy #1)
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Published: April 2nd, 2019 by Wednesday Books
Genres: young adult, fantasy
Format: eARC, 400 pages
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.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley (thank you!) in exchange for my honest review.
If you have eyes, you can see that I rated this book 4 stars. (And if I did half stars, this might have been 3.5 stars, but I don’t do halfsies, so I digress.)
And if you’ve been following along at all with me on my long, tumultuous trek through this book, you’ll know that: A. It took me month to read (maybe not a crazy enough reason, but it felt like several months rather than just one); B. I was so conflicted on my feelings about this book; C. I wasn’t invested in the story until at least 50% through (I guess if I force myself to spend time with characters, I kinda sorta grow to like them a little bit); and D. I wasn’t too fond of the writing style (at the start, because like the characters, it grew on me).
It’s safe to say this book and I weren’t friends at first. So what made me change my mind?
Let’s start from the beginning…
What I Didn’t Like
First of all, if I can’t even begin to pronounce a majority of the pronouns, it’s just overall a bad way for me to go into a book (and, NO, I had no idea about the pronunciation guide until AFTER I finished the book!!! It was not something that was included in the eARC.) The names were very much Slavic-inspired (and I’ve seen a few people slightly compare this book to the Grisha trilogy, which at first didn’t make any sense at all to me, but now I kind of see it and maybe that’s why I decided to rate it higher than I originally thought I ever would because I LOVE THE GRISHA TRILOGY and the ending of Wicked Saints had me pretty emotional because dammit Malachiasz!)
Speaking of Slavic origin, there were a lot of words thrown in there that meant absolutely nothing to me so I would just be reading along, having no clue about some of things that I was reading and just feeling kinda dumb (but of course I’m too lazy to Google those words, because all I wanted was for them to be explained to me in the book). So that turned me off of it for the longest time.
“We’re all monsters, Nadya. Some of us just hide it better than others.”
Another thing that just simply weirded me out in the beginning was the way the blood mages performed magic – by crumpling pages of spell books they kept attached at their hips, and soaking them in their blood. Just seemed so weird to me! And I’m sorry I judged way harshly on that in the first chunk of the book.
But I kept trudging through! And then something happened. The #QuadSquad* made it to the kingdom in Tranavia. And things started looking up!
*That’s definitely not a thing in the book. Totally just made it up.
What I Liked
Something that I can appreciate is how super fast we were thrown into action in the first chapter. No games were played! No bushes were beaten around! Nadya was just minding her own business with her pal Kostya, begrudgingly peeling potatoes, and then BAM! Under attack!
Sometimes alternating perspectives can be tedious and complicated (for me, the reader), but this was actually well done, and I applauded it from the start. Dual perspectives of Nadya the cleric from Kalyazin, and Serefin the High Prince and powerful blood mage of Tranavia. Nadya, a divine girl whose lived in a monastery her entire life, can talk to her gods by touching her necklace of beads, and the gods talk back. At war with a neighboring kingdom, her monastery is destroyed (along with almost everyone she’s ever known) by the High Prince of Tranavia. (And why are they at war? Religion, or lack thereof, basically.) Serefin, who has been in the heart of the battle between kingdoms for maybe as half as long as he’s been living, is kind of a drunk, but he’s just about the best damn blood mage there is, much to his father’s chagrin.
Well, Serefin goes after Nadya because she is one of the last known clerics (a person who can speak to the gods and use their power), but she gets away with one of her friends, Anna. But then they run into two foreigners and a defected Vulture* traveling together. And they are on their way to Grazyk, and they’re going to assassinate the Tranavian king so that they can put an end to this everlasting war.
*Vulture = a blood mage torn apart and made new into a terrifying creature of iron and darkness. Basically. Made in the Salt Mines.
Nadya basically says, cool, and she’s going to help them do it. Unlikely alliances are formed, magical disguises ensue, and you can’t help but feel something for the villain. It’s wonderful and I’m so happy I stuck it out because there was one too many times I thought about DNF’ing it. Thank the gods I persevered! The last 20-25% was the best, so if you find yourself in a similar predicament, JUST. KEEP. SWIMMING.
I enjoyed Nadya as a character, because even though all of her truths were being tested, she still hesitated at every turn since her gods were all she knew before everything blew up in her face. She didn’t up and leave every moral on a whim, because that would have made me lose all respect for her. Malachiasz was a beautiful monster, and I need more of him in my life. And the further we read into Serefin’s perspective, the more we could see he was just a boy who wanted nothing but the best for his kingdom.
I will be reading that second book. Because now that it’s over, I really want more.
All she knew was she had gone against everything she ever thought right and had fallen completely, irreversibly for this terrible, monstrous boy.