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April 18, 2020

Wicked Saints and Ruthless Gods by Emily A. Duncan ~ a Series Review

by MK French

Are you or your teen looking for a dark fantasy to enjoy this weekend? Check out the Something Dark and Holy series with book 1 and 2.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free copy of Ruthless Gods was provided for an honest review.

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Apri 2019; Wednesday Books; 978-1250195661
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); YA fantasy
Nadya had always been able to speak to the gods and was raised in a monastery as a cleric. Her country of Kalyazin had been at war with Tranavia for centuries, and part of the divide between their countries is the use of magic. In Kalyazin, one of the twenty gods favors a mortal as their cleric, granting them power if the mortal's prayers please them. In Tranavia, magic is powered by blood on pages of a spellbook. This is considered heresy in Kalyazin, but it's a heresy that Nadya has to confront when the war comes to her isolated monastery. She's determined to stop the war, no matter the cost, but is it worth the price?

Wicked Saints is Emily Duncan's first, and is very much a sprawling gothic fairy tale. We have gods and monsters, and those mortals who were turned into monsters. Malachiasz, a tall and lanky blood mage, is one of the dreaded Vultures, a cult of transformed blood mages that even the other mages of Tranavia fear. He carries other secrets, which upend everything that Nadya had ever known. Even the High Prince Serefin is subject to the war as its general, then to the court politics as his father the King manipulates tradition in order to gain even more power. All of them have their moments when they feel vulnerable and human, wondering why they're the ones tethered to fate, and it makes me feel for them in a way that I wouldn't if they were gung ho from the start to be the hero.

The language here is gorgeous and engrossing, pulling me into these Slavic-inspired kingdoms. There are hints at further history behind the current century of war, as well as the personal histories of the three main characters. Their heartbreaks and yearnings are so viscerally rendered, and then something else happens that ups the ante further. It's a slow burn enemies to friends to maybe-lovers, along with squabbling gods jockeying for attention and all with an ulterior motive of their own. Even the ending was a tangled mess of emotions, magic, fear, and confusion before betrayals bring everything crashing down. It definitely begs the question whether power is worth the pain of getting it, and if it really will solve the problems that people think they will. I had to devour this book in a single day, and I'm mostly sad that I have to wait until April for the second book in this trilogy to be published.

Buy Wicked Saints at Amazon

Ruthless Gods by Emily A. Duncan

April 2020; Wednesday Books; 978-1250195692
audio, ebook, print (544 pages); YA fantasy
Nadya's magic has been corrupted and the gods don't talk to her anymore. Serefin survived his father's plots but now hears voices and sees visions that go along with the mysterious voice demanding his allegiance. Malachiasz is more than mortal, but not quite what he had hoped to be. In spite of their actions, the war continues to rage and there are signs that something else has gone very, very wrong with the world.

Ruthless Gods is a direct sequel to Wicked Saints, taking place four months after the conclusion of that novel. As a result, you really need to read that one first. Otherwise, you're at a disadvantage as to who the characters are in relation to each other, as well as how magic works in this world. Nadya, who had always been sure she knew had magic worked and that she would remain faithful to her cleric origins had done the unthinkable in the conclusion to the first novel. Now her gods have fallen silent and don't allow her to tap into their power. Instead, she has a line connecting her to what's left of Malachiasz, and it's killing her by inches. Malachiasz had always been called a monster and Vulture before due to the way that tortures had been used to transform people into something more within that death cult. Now he has taken it to a whole new level of monstrous, becoming more like an eldritch horror befitting a Chthulu mythos. As for Serefin, he continues to drink and casually drive away those closest to him. Perhaps it's being raised in the treacherous court of a country with casual bloodletting for magic purposes, but he is awfully cavalier about the death threats he receives.

The dark and dramatic imagery in this novel is likely the stuff of nightmares. The Salt Mines, mentioned before as the home of the Vultures and as a place no one wants to ever enter, is every bit as horrible as was implied. Blood, bone, screams, and death are everywhere, and the horrid shape-shifting properties are especially vivid here. Nadya has incredible bravery to offer to enter and to try to draw out the humanity in the monsters that reside there. It's something that remains true even as she realizes she's changed so much from the first novel and is still an admirable quality about her. The curiosity remains the same, as well as her loyalty to those she cares about. That combination catapults the quest she chooses to undertake, which seems like more of a fool's errand at first.

Serefin initially comes across as even whinier than he had at the close of the first novel, and the drinking and arguing really make me lose respect for him. For someone introduced in such a fierce and terrifying way, his plight truly seems less engaging. It changes when the voice and hallucinations start, though he is still trying to escape his fate. In the final third of the book, I really like him more, though he still remains somewhat passive. Malachiasz has his passive moments as well, and it seems as though everyone is lying and everyone has ulterior motives. The book summary mentions a stunning betrayal, but it's more accurate to say that there are several betrayals, and as much as they had foreshadowing, I was still surprised by them. I can't wait to see what Emily has in store for the conclusion of the trilogy.

Buy Ruthless Gods at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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