Book Review: Wicked Saints – Emily A. Duncan

I have such mixed feelings I really hope I can sort them all out.

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Name: Wicked Saints
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: April 2, 2019


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.

Book Cover Comments

Similarly to this book, I like the cover when I first look at it. But the longer I look, the more it seems to fall apart. I appreciate what they were going for with that streak of blood, but something about it looks cheap. *Sigh*

The Actual Review

This book has been so hyped, it’s almost ridiculous. But I was weary. The last book hyped like this was Four Dead Queens. We know how I feel about Four Dead Queens.

The problem with Wicked Saints is that the plot seems so promising. We have a girl who can talk to gods, a playboy borderline-alcoholic prince, and then we get to Malachaajnrgjsndoossgls-whatever the frick his name is (I’m literally Czech, so I know how people feel when they see Slavic names, and how most people assume they’re over the top when really they’re just normal, Slavic names–but I’m here to tell you Malachiasz is an over the top name), and everything falls apart. So he’s marketed as this “monster boy” but then we meet him and we’re Darkling-ed all over again. “Oh my gosh the boy has dark powers but he’s actually nice but maybe not.”

Wicked Saints is a Slavic-inspired fantasy, and that’s really exciting for me because “Yay my own heritage.” But Leigh Bardugo kind of cornered the market on anything Russian/Polish/Slavic-esque, let’s be real. I think you’d have to be very, very unique with your words and storyline in order to make your book sound, well, not like Grishaverse fanfiction. Mala-whatever (also his name literally sounds like Malyen, and where do you think that came from) is just the Darkling, Nadya is Alina (homegirl literally has white-blonde hair), and Serefin is a charming prince who doesn’t like his father and uses wit and a combination of arrogance and self-deprecation to worm his way into everyone’s hearts. What? What’s that you say? Nikolai Lantsov? Nope, never heard of him. *Face palm*

Alas, Wicked Saints is just a Grishaverse fanfiction:—in my eyes at least—if you read it and feel differently, let me know. I’d love to hear why you think this is actually not something we’ve seen before.

I’m literally just so angry right now, because there are so many parts of this book that are so good, and then there are parts that just ruin the rest of it entirely. *Shakes fist*

I will say that the writing is described as “atmospheric” and “gothic” and that sort of thing. And on one hand, I think Duncan really achieves creating that spooky, snowy, bloody setting. On the other hand, I don’t want to attribute it to her actual writing, which didn’t blow my mind (there were actually quite a few sentences that didn’t make grammatical sense, and this is the Big Leagues, so there’s really no place for that). But I can’t figure out what exactly has “convinced” me of this setting. I get the sense she might be relying heavily on the reader to be like “This book is marketed as having a dark atmosphere, so that’s what I’m going to imagine.” I don’t like it when the promotion outweighs the actual content.

But that’s kind of the way it is for a lot of this book.

The plot really is interesting. This girl has gods in her head, okay cool. This prince no-likey his dad, okay I can get behind it. This boy…I literally don’t even know…he’s a monster, I guess.

But then that’s what the book relies on. We sympathize with Nadya because we know she’s a girl out of her element (but not really because we’re going to pull a K-Mart Inej Gafa and remember the power of the normal-ordinary-girl?), but not because she’s written in a way that makes you really like her. We think Serefin’s funny because he’s the character designated to comedic relief with a twist of drama. We think Mal…okay, fuck it, I have no idea what’s going on with his character. He’s marketed as a monster, but then he acts monstrous, and I get the sense that Duncan wants us to be all “Ermagherd he’s not a perfect little sweet boy can you believe.” Like, yeah, actually, we can believe you’ve been shoving that tag line down our throats the whole book (I’m convinced the words blood and monster are the most-used words in Wicked Saints).

Honestly if you believed a word out of wishes-he-was-the-Darkling’s mouth at any point in the book, you deserve to be “shocked” by what happens at the end. The author screams at us not to trust him (his tagline is “A MONSTER” in bold letters), but then he proves that he has an ounce of depth by, I dunno, making jokes and kissing good, and we’re supposed to trust him. *Eyebrow raise*

Listen, I like the characters. I like the plot (or, rather, the idea of the plot). But also I feel like nothing really shocking happens. If you’ve read any of the original Grisha trilogy, you’ll be able to guess what happens in pretty much 0.2 seconds. Our “villain” is a mashup of Sarah J Maas and Leigh Bardugo’s least interesting antagonists, which isn’t great, and the main character doesn’t seem to have any agency whatsoever–things just sort of happen to her, and she goes along with them. That’s actually how this whole plot feels: there’s buildup that drops off randomly, things that never get addressed, people who just disappear, and the entire reason why they do anything from the first half just gets ignored.

Half the time I feel like Duncan should’ve pulled an Anne Bishop and gotten rid of the main character’s point of view (which is a fascinating way to tell a story), so that we could’ve seen Nadya through Mala-whatever and Serefin’s eyes. It would’ve given her a bit of intrigue that her fairly generic and dare I say boring personality needed. Because when we’re in her head, nothing feels like it’s about her. There’s nothing about this girl that is slightly special, and while on one hand I think that’s what Duncan was trying to go for (Viva la boring girl, I guess?), the execution just didn’t work very well.

There was also very little representation: Rashid and Parijahan were both badass, but they didn’t get much page time, and there wasn’t much information given about them as a whole. The prince strikes me as could-be-bi, but that’s not confirmed, and there is a lesbian, but we don’t actually get to see any romance that isn’t white and het (and what we do see is just Alina/Darkling AU kissy fics sorry-not-sorry it’s true). Which is what Bardugo worked so hard to distance herself from after her first series. I digress.

I think my biggest issue with this book is that I was waiting for the plot twists. I felt like a giant revelation was waiting around every corner, but then we’d turn the corner, and instead of a monster, there was, like, an alley cat. And you wonder to yourself, “Oh. Was that it?” Yes. Yes, that’s it. I’m bummed because there was a lot of potential, especially for Nadya (homegirl literally talks to gods), but it kind of got sidelined for a bunch of philosophical-religion talk that was honestly quite boring, and Duncan’s attempt to make us believe the overall tone of this book is spooky and bloody.

This book wasn’t the book for me, and I think the reason for that is because it was written for Darkling and Kylo Ren stans who don’t actually care much about the stories themselves and are just there for the Darkling and/or Kylo Ren.

Don’t believe me? Enjoy this quote from the acknowledgements:

“And also thanks for using Kylo Ren to get me to figure out Malachiasz’s character.”

So in case you were wondering who to fan-cast as Mal-whatever, there. Now you’re not wondering.

Again, that might work for some people. I, personally, am of the variety where a strong plot really, really matters, but I’ll honestly let that slide if the characters are that interesting. But when your plot kind of falls apart and your characters are spinoffs of Alina, the Darkling, and Nikolai Lantsov? Mmm, not for me. 

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