Book Review: Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan

Wicked Saints Emily Duncan

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb from GoodReads: 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.

What you see is what you get with this blurb.  The plot is very straightforward. A war has been going on between Tranavia and Kalyazin for what seems like forever.  It’s a religious war.  Tranavia is full of blood mage “heretics” while Kalyazin remains true to the gods and has one single cleric (god-blessed mage?) to help them.  Now a ragtag group of teens has decided to put a stop to it all by assassinating the King of Tranavia.

The book started out relatively good.  It was a little simplistic for my tastes but after spending all that time with The Stand it was a decent follow up read.  The characters  did feel a little flat to me.  There wasn’t anything about them that popped off the page.  On the plus side, there was some diverse representation in there.  It wasn’t explored too deeply, but I don’t necessarily think that it’s a bad thing.  I’m happy to see it being normalized.

There are two different magic systems.  One for Kalyazin, where a mage’s ability is divine and god-granted.  Nadya must ask the gods’s permission to use their power and they can either grant or deny it.  Most clerics can only speak with one god, but Nadya speaks to all of them.

The other magic system is for Tranavia, where some people choose to become blood mages.  This magic system was very odd to me.  I just couldn’t envision it working in any practical way.  The blood mages have special razors that won’t scar sewn into their coats so they can cut themselves quickly and easily.  They are also holding a spell book which is written by, I don’t know, someone who is not the mage using it.  Then they tear out the page and soak it in blood and crumple it or stick it to a wall.

So here’s where the confusion comes in.  How does one cut themselves with a razor sewn into their sleeve while holding a book in the heat of a battle or duel?  I feel like by the time all that has been accomplished, someone’s probably already stuck a sword in them.   It’s not that it was terribly complicated, it just would have required so much concentration and coordination I couldn’t imagine it being practical in a duel or war.  Given that the blood needs to touch the page I couldn’t work out the logistics of it, and had to pause and think about it anytime it was mentioned, which took me out of the story.

Towards the end, the book fell apart a little bit.  I often felt like I was missing parts of the conversation or character’s thought processes.  I was confused and it involved a lot of flipping back and forth and re-reading trying to figure out what was going on.  Sometimes it felt like characters were removed from the present moment to stop and have little side conversations while other really important stuff was happening, which messed with the sense of place.  I would scratch my head and go: “Where are we right now?”

The romance was kind of silly.  Nadya loves Malachiasz (I’ve probably spelled this wrong).  She often says things like: “I know he’s lying but I love him anyway.”  And I get it- that describes plenty of relationships that exist in the world.  However, you can’t also be presenting that character as a “Strong Female Protagonist” and have her saying stuff like this.  Maybe my idea of the strong female protagonist is narrow, but I personally can’t relate to it, and it makes my eye twitch.  The romantic scenes were also very redundant (lots of fingers in hair) and I ended up skimming a lot of them.

My final complaint is about the character growth.  Nadya shows none and therefore the message of the book was pretty murky.  This is labeled as “Something Dark and Holy #1”, so it’s very much possible that her growth is being saved for later books, which is fine.  Basically, in a book about religious war where two enemy characters are coming together to fix a problem, I expect each of them to gain a little understanding of the other side, and their belief systems to change a little bit.  In Nadya’s case, we make it all the way to the end with her believing that the Tranavians are heretics and need to go back to worshipping the gods as Kalyazin does.

I really hope that is not where this story is headed because that’s an incredibly problematic message.

All in all- if you don’t look too deeply at it, it’s not a bad read.  It’s quick and has some entertaining moments.

Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy #1) by Emily Duncan can be found on GoodReads here, or ordered on Amazon here.

Thank you to Wednesday Books/St. Martin’s Press and Edelweiss for the ARC.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring 2019 TBR


Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic is pretty straight forward.  I’m pulling most of these from a list of buddy reads I’ve already agreed to join.  I swore this year I wasn’t going to do this to myself… but my March reading is already behind and April is pretty much booked solid.  You see the trouble is I commit to buddy reads and then I find all this other great stuff to read along the way.  So while three or four buddy reads is totally reasonable in a month- I’ll probably end up reading twice that and cramming eight or nine reads into a month.  #INeedToPlanBetter.

Luna Moon Rising Ian McDonald

Moon Rising, Luna #3 by Ian McDonald – I am SO EXCITED for this book.  It releases today!!  Plus I learned that CBS has picked up the TV rights on it.  I’m not sure they can do it justice (probably not like HBO could anyway) but I’ll give it a try if it ever manifests.  I’m so in love with this world and all it’s drama.

Beowulf Seamus Heaney

Beowulf, Seamus Heaney translation – So this is super embarrassing to admit, lover of vikings that I am, but I’ve never read this.  And I need more classics on my roster this year because last year I read none.

The Mere Wife Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley – If you aren’t familiar with this one, it’s a modern, suburban house wife, retelling of Beowulf.  To me there’s something contemporarily vicious about modern housewives and keeping up with the Joneses, so as odd as it sounds I think the setting will fit a Beowulf retelling perfectly.

Servant of the Underworld Aliette de Bodard

Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard – I actually have no idea who Aliette de Bodard is, I just know her name keeps coming up everywhere.  Tenochtitlan, Aztecs, high priests and priestesses… No idea what it’s about, but I’m sold.

Time Was Ian McDonald

Time Was by Ian McDonald – I’m pretty convinced at this point that Ian McDonald is one of the more underrated science fiction authors out there right now.  Again- no idea what this one is about, but for some authors, it really doesn’t matter.  I’m hoping for a sweeping science fictional LGBT+ love story.  And that cover is gorgeous.


Alien Virus Love Disaster by Abbey Mei Otis – This book, along with Time Was (above) is nominated for the Phillip K. Dick award.  I fell in love with this book based on the title alone (you know, because 400 years in the future, I am totally a walking Alien Virus Love Disaster).  It’s a collection of short stories and looks like it will be pretty quick.

Wicked Saints Emily Duncan

Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan – Somehow I was lucky enough to be approved for an ARC on this one (St. Martin’s Press has always been kind to me).  To be honest, early reviews have me a little nervous, but with a title like: Wicked Saints and a series called: Something Dark and Holy… what’s not to love?! (Please be good.)

City of Stairs Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett – The number of books this man has on my TBR list is seriously out of control.  Everything he puts out I feel like I need to read and I’ve yet to actually read any of them.  Worse still- the omnibus for The Divine Cities was on sale for $2.99 a couple months back (a steal) so I own all three and still haven’t read them.  Spring 2019, it is time.


The Stand by Stephen King – I have to work really hard not to read Stephen King all the time.  Even on his worst days, he still offers me more than a lot of what I feel like I’ve been reading lately.  And I still have SO MANY of his books on my TBR.  Lately I’ve been wanting to read the stand, because I feel like it will be epic on the scale of Under the Dome.  (At least that’s what I’m hoping for.  Please don’t let me down.)

Witchmark C.L. Polk

Witchmark by C.L. Polk – I realize this is a bizarre follow up to The Stand, but reading The Wolf in the Whale last month, I was reminded that romance really is a favorite genre of mine, when it’s done well.  So I suppose it’s not a coincidence that both Time Was and Witchmark landed on my Spring TBR.  It’s nominated for the Lambda award and seems to have great reviews so I’m very excited for it.

That’s it!  I probably will end up reading ten totally different things, but I’m hopeful I’ll at least make it through the six buddy reads I have planned.  What about you?  What’s on your Spring TBR?