Genres: Young Adult
Series: Something Dark and Holy #1
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Source: My shelves
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..
[ This review does contain light spoilers ]
I went into this book knowing that it was my friend Emmy’s favorite read and that it was well-beloved. With these things in mind, I went in with some consternation, as I always feel about highly-hyped books. That is, until I read the blurbs on the back of the cover. Things like: “snow-drenched fairytale,” and “where the monsters steal your heart and love ends up being the nightmare.” Oooooooh!! I was hooked. I was no longer trying to cautiously keep my expectations low and I was back to basically already praising it, lifting it to God Status and just waiting for the moment when I could fangirl about it, too.
It had all the things I love in high fantasy” bad boy love interest, oppressive regime, dangerous magic, and morally grey protagonists. Except… Where does all that come into play, exactly? Because I have to say, I couldn’t find any of it. First of all, it was boring as hell. I’m not really sure where the plot was? It was travel to castle –> arrive at the castle and go undercover for some reason –> big showdown in the last 10 pages. But really, it was Nadya mooning over Malachiasz. But we’re not talking about that whole problem, yet.
First, the characters.
Nadya. I think she was our main character? Yet I’ve honestly never read a book (NEVER) where a character fades away in their own POV. She had so much potential! She’s the only cleric left in the world, which means she literally has gods talking in her head and giving her their powers. This gets jumbled and confused later, but basically, she had the potential to be great. The book had “Let them Fear Her” written on the cover, in the books, on the naked cover. But I’m honestly asking myself why. She wasn’t a fearsome character, she wasn’t a “Slytherin” and she honestly had… no purpose? She was an insipid hand-wringer, forgettable, and became a damsel in distress. Really, she was just our lens in the world for the real person who stole the show: Malachiasz. Nadya had no impact on the plot, for someone who had so much potential, which is quite awful, as half the book was in her POV.
It’s upsetting because she’s was a complete idiot for the whole book :( This book is her first time away from the monastery where she lived, and I was excited for her to see the world, determine the path of her own life and take possession of her own destiny! But… she merely did what others told her and thought about her “broken boy.” She was clearly a minor character in her own story.
Now we have Malachiasz, the love-interest “Monster” whose story was completely overdone. We were hit over the head again and again with his “boy v. monster” storyline, where he was either a “powerful villain” or an adorable “broken boy.” Please note my use of quotation marks. Malachiasz, besides Nadya, was a huge eye-roll. Maybe it could have been something (maybe), but I just got bored with the rapid, repetitive commentary. He … ushgldj.
I honestly couldn’t care less about him and Nadya. because page after page is just Nadya mooning over Malachiasz. They’re crossing into enemy territory, in a duel, getting attacked… and it’s all overshadowed and deemed unimportant as Nadya laments over her “broken boy.” All this despite the lack of chemistry either of them have. It was set up as an enemies-to-lovers, although I’m not sure why they were ever enemies, it was pretty insta-lovey to me. Nadya was basically reduced to a love interest, not even a heroine in her own story, but a vapid wide-eyed character with a lot of power she doesn’t use and I honestly couldn’t understand why she fell for Malachiasz, other than the plot? Because I guess then, this book would be nothing.
And we can’t forget Serefin! He was the only part of this book I even remotely enjoyed, as at least he was a bit exciting, but even he failed when really examined. His character arc was completely inconsistent – in the beginning, he killed a boy for no reason. Then he’s the charming boy who just wants out of his father’s shadow… if only he’s given the chance to rule ? Aww. I would say that, by halfway through, he basically became Dorian Havilliard from Throne of Glass, after the first half he was an alcoholic war general, of course. Two different people there and that was the best part of the book, even if he did spend most of it just wafting around only for something to happen with “moons and stars.”
Then there’s the actual story itself.
But what story? I ask myself, as I’m writing this. Honestly, I’m not sure. It was soooo sloowwwww, as you labor through 350 pages of moony eyes, “broken boys” as this Big Confrontation is set up … which was very anti-climatic. I read in this Goodreads review that by the end, “You expect a massive firework display, instead, you get a sparkler and a soggy sandwich” and I couldn’t agree more.
The magic system was just… confusing?? That’s probably due to the lack of world-building, but I spent more of my book just being confused. Which apparently the author thinks is fine, as she tweeted out that “I just… think readers could do with becoming comfortable with things not being explained in rote detail. / Anyway! Plenty of fantasy authors will hold your hand! I won’t, sorry!” (10/05/2019). Being “mysterious” and holding details to the end is common. But if you never explain them…? Confusion is not a plot device or a writing style. It’s a lack of basic storytelling. Not to mention, for a book focused on killing the king, there was a distinct lack of political intrigue, which was a huge disappointment to me.
I wanted to much for this to live up to the blurbs and the amazing quotes that I see pulled out of this book – about the only good thing that comes out of it – but… I couldn’t. It just feels like an uninspired mash-up of everything that’s popular in YA Fantasy right now and a Shadow and Bone rip-off. I just found it to be a complete mess, and it literally didn’t even make sense. Sorry to quote yet another Goodreads review, but I was just perusing and found this quote to be absolutely hilarious and very sadly true: “The Dramatic Showdown reads like the view from a Go-Pro thrown into a bag of fighting cats. The inept chaos of it isn’t even good for a cruel laugh.”
Not to sound as redundant as this book but… where?? They were like checkboxes. Need a rag-tag group so it’s not just Malachiasz&Nadya… check. Need some POC characters… check – how about a brother and sister! Need someone from the LGBT community… ayyy a lesbian best friend that doesn’t affect the actual story and do anything but give Serefin something to grin sardonically at. Speaking of Serefin, he needs some friends so they can pull him out of his alcoholic stupors… check! They, too, will also serve no purpose!
You could literally delete all of these characters from the story at it would not change at all, except being down a page where they were initially introduced. At one point, a member of the “rag-tag” group went missing and Nadya didn’t care, she even swooned in Malachiasz’s lap at something completely different. Not to mention Nadya’s best friend (only friend) from her entire childhood that she thought was dead. Did she think of his name once after she was forced to leave the monastery? Nope. No mourning, no care, just moony eyes. She’d ask questions and he’d kiss her to distract her and she’d think “oh my poor broken boy” and I believe it worked all 38 times that device was used.
It would have worked if…
Now I don’t think this book is hopeless, and there’s a possibility that Ms. Duncan can turn this trilogy around with the next two books. But so far… no. I think that if Nadya had been a child, perhaps eight years old, the story would have kicked a bit more ass. Especially if Malachiasz was an older man, but it could have worked with him as a teenager. Because if Nadya was a child, her dependence on others, her distant narrative, the lack of political intrigue, and her focus on Malachiasz would have made a bit more sense. This would have made it more similar to the Witcher, yes, but I think it could have worked. It would certainly have been a Dark Fantasy, rather than a wannabe like it turned out. Alas, it tried too hard to ascribe to popular YA Fantasy themes :(
I’m sorry this turned about to be a bit rant-y, but I standby everything that I said, unfortunately. People have enjoyed this book and I don’t understand how, but I’m truly happy that they were able to look past the mess and find something in Nadya and Malachiasz to care about. I often highly rate books that I thoroughly enjoyed, even if the background was a bit messy because I genuinely had a great time reading it (books like The Shadows Between Us). But I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this book when there are so many better ones out there for you to spend your time on, instead.
Other fantasy books you may enjoy instead…
What’s a popular book that disappointed you? Have you read Wicked Saints? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!