Book: “Wicked Saints” by Emily A. Duncan
Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, April 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley
Book Description: 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.
Review: This was book-cover love through and through. Sure, the description sounds good enough, but there were also some warning signs there (love triangle??) that would typically make me a bit wary. But I love the simplicity of this cover and the way the colorization is used. Alas, by the end of the book, the cover was still probably my favorite part.
Nadya can speak to the gods, an entire pantheon of them. But for most of her life, she has been hiding and training in a remote monastery, a secret weapon that hasn’t been used yet in a growing political war. One day, that war arrives on her doorstep, quite literally, and everything changes. Now caught up in events moving in ways she barely understands, Nadya finds herself working a boy she’s not sure she can trust but who might also be the key to it all.
Honestly, there wasn’t much I loved about this book. That’s not to say I hated a lot of it either, but more like, I felt like I had read much of it before and read it better. Russian-based fantasy stories have been the rage for a few years it seems, and as such, there have been a million and one entries into the sub-genre with a wide range of quality, as far as I’m concerned. There have definitely been worse ones than this, but when I just finished up the last book in the “Winternight” trilogy, it’s hard to look at this one and not be a bit disappointed.
Aside from that trilogy, the more direct comparison for this book would be Bardugo’s “Grisha” trilogy. I’m pretty sure there have been quite a few comparisons already floated around between the two and I can definitely see it.
The biggest similarity comes with the romance and the enemies-to-lovers trope that is at the heart of both (sort of). On its own, I think this is one of the harder love arcs to right and I would say its this aspect specifically that sunk Bardugo’s series for me as I could never buy this part of the story. So, here, too, I struggled. I could never understand the “whys” behind any emotion our two romantic interests had for each other. Why did they really hate each other in the first place? Patriotic prejudices can only go so far as an explanation. And then, worse, why do they fall for each other? The motivation behind either emotion wasn’t fully fleshed out in any way, and when you’re dealing with some of the strongest emotions out there, love and hate, you need a pretty darn good reason to have your character feel them, and even more so, change from one to another. Throughout the story, the male love interest lied repeatedly to Nadya, and yet somehow, we’re meant to buy her continued interest in him. By about halfway through the book, I started to give up on getting the strong character I wanted from Nadya and was resigned to the fact that she was mostly a love interest in her own story.
I also struggled with the magic system. Again, as it was incorporated in the story, it felt very similar to other Russian-based fantasies I’ve read, but here it only skimmed the surface. The end of the story in particular seemed to really highlight this struggle as aspects of the magic system seemed to come out of nowhere or operate in ways that didn’t really make sense all of a sudden.
On top of that all, I was just bored throughout most of this. Other than the frenetic last few chapters of the story, I just felt like I was following the predictable footsteps of a well-worn path. There wasn’t anything new here, and in a subgenre that has so many offerings, I’d say if you’re looking for Slavic fantasy, you can find better. Just this year there was the final book in the “Winternight” trilogy, “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden and “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik. And if you want a better “enemies to lovers” story, you can check out “Sherwood” by Meagan Spooner.
Rating 6: Nothing terribly bad, but also not really holding its own in a pretty packed subgenre of YA fantasy.
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