That was SO GOOD.
Help me, I’m dying.
Wicked Saints is the first book in an all new YA Fantasy trilogy called, Something Dark and Holy. A more apt name for a trilogy has NEVER existed. This is so dark, so damn holy. ((clutches pearls))
This is a debut novel for this author and guys, WOW. If this is Duncan’s debut, she is definitely an author to watch.
I picked this up the day before release, as I was generously provided a copy by the publisher, Wednesday Books, in exchange for an honest review, and I am hella obsessed with this story.
The tone of this is very grimdark and we all know, I live for that. Basically, in this world, there is a holy war that has been raging for centuries between two kingdoms: Kalyazin and Tranavia. We follow three main characters: Nadya, Serefin and Malachiasz.
The world is vast and complex, yet feels like nothing to learn. Last week I reviewed another YA Fantasy book, I won’t name here, but I mentioned how I felt like I needed to be taking notes as the town the characters lived in was being explained.
That shook me out of the story and made it hard for me to connect. With this book, even though this is a vastly more complex world, I never felt that. Whilst reading Wicked Saints, I felt like I am living these events along with the characters. I never felt that I didn’t understand what was going on or how the world worked.
This, to me, is a sign of a great fantasy construct; well thought out and balanced. Even though this story takes place in a world that is being created from scratch, although clearly based on Russian/Eastern European lore, culture, etc., it never feels overwhelming and in my opinion, does not suffer at all from the dreaded ‘first book in a series’ syndrome.
Nadya, the main female protagonist, is the most fascinating to me. She was raised in a monastery in the mountains of Kalyazin where the clerics and others can commune with their pantheon of gods. Nadya is very special as she is able to commune with all the gods and she can gain magical powers from them.
Even more interesting is the fact that the gods talk back! She wears a necklace around her neck with a different bead representing each of the different gods. Depending on the situation, and what powers she may need, she holds that bead and asks that god for help. The gods are all developed with their own personality and they can offer up guidance, a friendly chat or just be silent.
I love this aspect! It makes me think of the Disney animated movie, Hercules, all the different gods you meet in that and their personalities; so much fun. It is a very unique element. I have never read anything quite like this in a YA Fantasy before.
So, due to circumstances I won’t get into here, Nadya is forced to flee the monastery, fearing for her life, and once on the road bumps into a traveling trio that includes another of our main characters, Malachiasz.
Now, Malachiasz is a complex character and one that would be a little difficult to explain without going into too much of the story. Let’s just say he was once part of a very dangerous and secretive order of powerful blood mages in the kingdom of Tranavia called the Vultures.
I know, right!? Doesn’t that sound creepy and ominous AF?
Yep. The Vultures are hella creepy masked guys and gals with the most murderous of intentions. They are so scary and powerful that they are referred to as ‘monsters’ by people outside the sect. Malachiasz is a defector from the sect. The only person known to have done so. He confesses this to Nadya and tells her he is essentially on the wrong side of the law in Tranavia.
Our final main character is Serefin, the crown Prince of Tranavia. He has been leading armies for the past few years in the never-ending war with Kalyazin but has recently been summoned home by his father, the King. Serefin is convinced his father has one goal in mind, to take him out. Is he just paranoid or does his father really want to kill him? It is clear the King isn’t playing with a full deck and he is quite volatile and secretive; whispering around with the Vultures.
When Nadya, Malachiasz and their traveling companions arrive in the capital city, set on stopping the war, whatever the cost, they come into contact with Serefin and begin to wonder, exactly whose side is he on?
The writing in this is so delicious. Dark and gothic from the very start! If you love that kind of story, set in a harsh and unforgiving world, you need to pick this book up.
I enjoyed this so much, I am already planning a reread — no joke. Most of all I am looking forward to discussing this with other readers. This is so compelling, I just know there is going to be a huge fandom for this story, this world, these characters and this author!
I am so excited to see where Duncan is going to go with this story. I just can’t even imagine what ultimately is going to happen. There are so many ways it could go, all of them bloody and brutal.
Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and will definitely be buying a finished copy for my collection!