★ ★ ★ ★ .5 Wicked Saints by Emily. A Duncan
I am having a very hard time wrapping my mind around how I feel about this book. I loved it????? But it was also not perfect. Yes. It is also the first in a series so there is so much room to grow in these characters/plot/mysteries so that is also a factor to consider. I have a hard time rating series books when they’re not surrounded by their sequels. I feel like sometimes reading a sequel can change how you feel about the first in a series/the series as a whole. Sometimes questions you have are answered and things that didn’t sit right all of a sudden are knocked into place.
So. Know that I loved this, had some (minor) issues with certain parts, but those issues are not set in stone as my feelings on books are subject to change at any moment lmao.
I think my favorite part of this book is its relationship with faith. I am not religious although I did grow up going to church, being confirmed etc. It was really interesting reading about a mc who is so passionate about her faith there is no room for question or deviation from what her Gods request of her. She gives them her whole devotion and they grant her with magical powers. Right? Not quite so simple.
This book explores how it’s alright to question your beliefs and how you can want to have absolute faith in someone so much, but they don’t always measure up. I felt this not only with Nadya’s relationship with her Gods but also her relationship with Malachiasz. The push and pull of their relationship is so freaking tense and compelling.
I will say that I think I could have used even more cognitive dissonance from Nadya about how she felt and what she was supposed to do. There’s obviously a divide within her and I think because we get her POV there could have been more room for her to voice the conflict. (this is really so minor though, but maybe I just love internal drama.)
*spoiler* I love how much she wants to believe in him up until the very end. She wants so badly to trust him that she decides to look beyond the evidence and put her faith in him just to find out she really shouldn’t have. I think their relationship allowed her to not only come in to her own person outside of her cleric duties, but also see that there is merit in making her own decisions and that maybe it is alright to question her Gods. Just because she realizes this though, does not mean that she with completely throw them away. Up until the end her goal is to remove the veil shielding the Gods from her neighboring country. She doesn’t turn away from them despite her questions. *end of spoiler*
I love how complicated this entire story is! Each character has their goals and they have their reasons. There is no black and white. Throughout the entire book I tried to decide who the villain was. Which side is wrong? Both countries have committed atrocities against the other, and each believe the other is at fault, but where does the conflict truly lie? This is so freaking real!!!! One country, Kalyazin, believes wholeheartedly in their Gods. They construct shrines and churches in dedication to each of them. They pray to them for multitudes of reasons, and in return clerics are granted powers from a deity that deems them worthy.
Their neighboring country, Tranavia, does not believe in the Gods. Not necessarily that they do not exist, but that they are not worthy of praise. They commit heresy by participating in blood magic of which the Gods do not approve. Each country believes the other to be completely wrong. Kalazi believe Tranavians should die because they do not believe in the Gods. Tranavians want nothing to do with the Gods and would rather see them banished. Is either country wrong for believing what they do?
It’s so easy to write a story with a clear line between good and wrong. People love a common enemy they can hate. This story does not make that so easy.
*spoiler*Even the king yearning for power in a world where he is seen weak because those lesser than him have a stronger hold on blood magic is understandable. Did he do some messed up stuff to obtain power? Yes. Do a lot of people do some messed up stuff to achieve their goals in this book? Double yes. *end of spoiler*
Oh, god did I jump on this ship the moment I saw it approaching. I cannot, I repeat CANNOT, refuse a misunderstood and broody male character. Like hello. Yes, please. Give me more. Malachiasz, in Emily Duncan’s words on twitter, is not merely the love interest. I feel like that is apparent after you’ve read the entire book.
*spoiler* I know people voiced that his POV was lacking, but like if you read the book that’s how it has to be??? He’s hiding his entire goal the entire time. His POV wouldn’t work since he’s hiding so much the entire book. First, that he’s a vulture, then that he’s their king, and third that he’s going fucking hard on that blood magic. It’s obvious he is going to play a major role in the future (and probably get his own chapters), and as he cannot even remember his own name, it will involve more than him just playing the role of Nadya’s love interst. *end of spoiler*
I love me a good enemies to lovers romance, and this is what we get baby. They never wholly trust each other (even if they believe they do) and I think that serves only to increase the tension between them. It’s forbidden, it’s wrong (but actually so right!!)
Ughhh the writing in this story is so beautiful. There’s a specific scene near the end of the book that took lyrical writing to the max, and tbh I could have read an entire book that read like that. I know some people really don’t like overtly lyrical and twisting prose, but bitch it’s what I live for.
I know this book was marketed as gruesome, and twisted and I definitely think it lives up to that description. It wasn’t quite and messed up as I was expecting, but I think it still did a great job at creating that dark gothic tone. If I were to get a perfect book, I would want even more cruel, even more gore in the future (I don’t know if that’s the vibe she’s going with for this series tho, so it’s possible this will never happen.)
Things I wish were included (not actual critique, I just got excited)
How could you tease a fun competition like that and not see it through???? When it was announced I was so freaking jazzed that I knew in that exact moment books involving competitions are my kryptonite. I love them and will always love them. I’m not going to say that would have increased my rating bc that is petty af and the competition has really nothing to do with the book, but ugh. I love competitions.
*Thank you to netgalley and Macmillan for this review copy!