Goodreads: Wicked Saints
Series: Wicked Saints #1
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.
Wicked Saints is undeniably an attempt to replicate the success of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, with its Russian-inspired setting, its endless war, its romance with a monster, and its musings on the true nature of religion and sainthood. Unfortunately, however, the book never reaches the same level of writing or introspection of Bardugo’s work, instead relying on cheap thrills and plot twists to keep readings hooked. After too many attempts to shock me, however, the book started to get more laughable than dramatic. Wicked Saints is one of those books that made me deeply grateful the experience of reading it was finally over.
The premise of Wicked Saints is intriguing. It focuses on Nadya, a girl raised in a monastery to be the ultimate weapon to end her country’s war with a neighboring nation, as well as on the prince of that enemy country, and a boy whose power is monstrous yet compelling. These three should spark the interest of readers with their unique perspectives on life and religion, especially when their lives collide. However, the characterization is regrettably weak. Nadya’s main feature is her hatred of the enemy country mainly because they are the enemy, as well as “heretics.” The prince, Serefin, is more compelling, but readers don’t get much from him except that he likes to get drunk and isn’t as terrible as his tyrant father. The boy/monster remains an enigma and his main reason for existing seems to be so Nadya can fall in love with him, while flip flopping on the question of whether she can trust him.
The romance here is seemingly a replication of the Alina/Darkling romance from Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. Unlike that one, however, this one is hard to be invested in. Nadya has no real reason to start falling for a boy who practices blood magic she finds abhorrent, and whom she is not even sure she can trust. He gives her no backstory, no reason for her to see the boy behind the monster. They barely even spend any time together. Instead, the author just tells readers that Nadya is physically attracted to him, and that is apparently supposed to be enough. But the great romances of literature always have a lead-up, always have a reason for readers to want to see a couple together. Here, the only reason is that YA loves the enemies-to-lovers trope, and Duncan wants to set up readers for a series of “Can we trust him? Yes! No! Yes! No!” scenes that start to become ridiculous the more prolific they become.
The book really starts to fall apart around the midway point when Duncan starts to attempt to play up the mystery and the drama. Part of this happens with the aforementioned series of scenes, where Nadya keeps trusting, then not trusting, her love interest as a bunch of of plot twists come out of nowhere, not because they make sense in the plot, but because drama is everything. But part of the strategy to create dramatic tension is apparently to simply not explain anything. In my opinion, this is shoddy writing. Writers should not have to rely on confusing their readers into thinking something exciting is happening. The plot should make sense and readers should be able to follow it. They should be worried because they have an inkling of what is about to happen, not because they lost the plot thread 100 pages ago and are now just along for the ride.
Wicked Saints will possibly appeal to readers who want more of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. However, the danger in trying to copy another book’s success is that any failure to reach the bar set by the first book becomes more pronounced. Wicked Saints is no substitute for the Grisha trilogy, and it is disappointing to open up a book with a promising summary only to find weak characterization, a bland romance, and a nonsensical plot. I won’t be picking up the sequel.