Yes, hello. I know I’m on a hiatus, but after finishing Wicked Saints I thought it was best to post a review here on my blog (which I will also cross-post to Goodreads).
While on my hiatus, I’ve been trying to catch up with the older ARCs that have been sitting on my shelves for a while. WS was one of those books. It’s been touted as being dark and gothic, mimicking Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy.
Trigger warning: self-harm || I am a recovered self-harmer and have been for 9 years. Yet this book did me no favors in this area. I was shocked when I skimmed Goodreads to see there were hardly any trigger warnings for this.
Due to the nature of the trigger warning, this review is NOT spoiler-free.
I won this book from a giveaway. Thank you, Wednesday Books, for providing a free copy. All quotes are taken from the ARC and may have changed in the final copy.
Title: Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy #1)
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release date: April 3, 2019
Length: 385 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “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.”
“….[W]ar didn’t care for carefully laid plans.”
One of the things that put this book on my radar early was the forbidden romance trope. It’s one of my favorite tropes to read in literature. Due to the marketing and general atmosphere around the book, I expected something quite dark, gothic, and mysterious. Wicked Saints hit the target but not the bulls-eye. The overall storyline was intriguing, but I still felt a little lost. The centuries-long war is a religious one, fought between two countries: one that believes in gods and one that doesn’t, one that derives its magic from blood, one that derives from the gods themselves. Enter Nadhya, a girl who can speak to the gods and they speak right back to her. The monastery where she’s lived her whole life is attacked by the enemy and she must flee before they capture her. After all, Nadya’s been told she’ll change the tide of war with her unique gift.
While the plot isn’t wholly bad, I was too distracted by how magic is used by certain characters in this book, specifically how the characters are rather specific about where they need to cut themselves.
A little over the 50 page mark we see one of the main characters, the High Prince Serefin, cut himself in order to use his magic. These people are called blood mages. Once they draw blood, they smear it across a torn page in their spell book to draw forth the magic. In order to do this, they sew razorblades into the sleeves of their clothes. That’s the thing that blew my mind. They had to cut themselves in order to use their magic. With razorblades, no less. There were multiple instances throughout the book where the razorblade was drawn across a forearm. It was unsettling for me, to say the least.
Nadya notes visible scars on Malachaisz’s arms, something she questions when she has to infiltrate the court to assassinate the king, especially after he tells her the razorblades into the sleeves are magicked to not leave scars. Instantly, this made me wonder if Malachaisz’s scars were self-inflicted or if it’s part of his bigger, darker “secret.” For the time being I went with the former, maybe as a bit of a defense mechanism. Later, however, Nadya’s asked Malachaisz’s outright about his scars. From his answers, it’s obvious his visible scars were self-inflicted, something he did as a “reminder” but hasn’t done “for a long time.” This scene takes place well over 300 pages into the book. But there are multiple instances throughout the book where blood, scars, and characters cutting themselves was mentioned numerous times. In some cases I had to put the book down and do something else before returning to it in order to distract myself.
When I started this book, I went into it thinking Nadya wouldn’t be the shy, unsure girl that she is. Of course, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that she wasn’t–it was actually quite refreshing. I wouldn’t call her naive, really. Her sense of self and her surety of her life and what’s going on is quite solid, and she stands her ground when Malachaisz’s questions her belief in her gods. Yet it was the romance between these two characters I couldn’t quite believe. Not that it felt forced, but it simply didn’t excite me or leave me wanting more. I was a little sad to see Malachaisz’s betray Nadya in the end. I thought it was interesting how Serefin recognize Malachaisz’s but not the other way around. I imagine this will be explored in the next book, but I’m actually not too keen to read the sequel.
“We’re all monsters… Some of us just hide it better than others.”
Despite everything, this book was a quick read. If I had known about the self-harm, I might have skipped it altogether. There’s something wholly different about say, a book like Girl in Pieces, where self-harm is a coping mechanism, a way to control something in your life. But the way it’s done in Wicked Saints, to use magic, was hard to swallow. There seemed to be flippant disregard on the author’s side for those who actually self-harmed. I found a finished copy at the bookstore, thinking there would be a trigger warning, but there wasn’t. All the bit more disappointing, if I’m being honest with myself.
The world-building was fine, and I liked the Eastern European influence despite how some of the names were difficult to pronounce. As I said before, I don’t plan on reading the sequel, especially since this book is triggering for me.
Check out these other reviews:
- Zoe talks about the self-harm rep in the book and how magic is used, which contributed to her low rating of the book.
- Chaima wrote an in-depth review of the book and also provided trigger warnings.
- Alliee at AllieeReads gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.
Now I’m off on my hiatus again! See you in a couple of weeks.