Trigger Warnings: self- harm, alcoholism, parental abuse, abandonment This is a very dark, but excellent book.
Before reading Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan one thing had become abundantly clear to me. The book was extremely polarizing. Love it or hate it. There wasn’t any in between. Now I know why. This becomes very simple.
Two camps exist here, really, and you will find yourself in one of the two (or discover you like both):
There will be the few who can appreciate both types of fantasies- I can sway either way if the first type isn’t too sappy and romance isn’t the A plotline but more on the backburner.
- If you are looking for a pretty fantasy with princes, princesses, queens and kings vs. other worlds that might be flawed but ultimately are good people; a villainous thing lurking to kill them all? This isn’t for you.
- If you want a twisted fantasy that is dark and surreal with severely damaged characters that don’t know what they are doing and are willing to throw their entire belief system out the window faster than most people change the radio station? Blood magic, snarky Gods, deception, century long enemies forced to work together across feuding countries, where you don’t know who the actual villain is until the last chapter? Welcome to book one in the Dark and Holy Series. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Nadya is from Kalyazin; a country that believes in divinity magic that is bestowed upon them by the Gods. Kalyazin hadn’t had a cleric in decades, as they were eradicated by the Vultures of Tranavia (more on them in a bit). She has spent her life protected in a monastery where she has been raised, tutored and protected until the High Prince of Tranavia invades and captures or kills most of the monastery, but not the cleric he has been seeking. Nadya flees with the one friend who could get out with her, Anna.
Serafin is the High Prince of Tranavia, a country built on their being mages that use blood magic. Wearing a spell book on their hips, Tranavians have small razors sewn into the cuffs of their clothes to cut into their skin so they can mix their blood with pages from the spell book. This magic is theirs and theirs alone. Each mage has varying degrees of strength. Serafin being a very powerful mage, takes the monastery but not Nadya and then proceeds to get incredibly drunk. The Vultures are an extreme cult of monstrous mages that live in Tranavia but serve their own king, the Black Vulture.
Kalyazin and Tranavia have been at war for a century over their religious beliefs. The Kalyazin believing the Tranavians are heretics due to the use of blood magic, turning their backs on the Gods. Tranavians believe the Gods could be any kind of being and that the Kayazin’s are fools. That they lock themselves into the whims of what long dead beings would want them to do, or how they would want them to live for fear they could take away their magic, and power at any time.
Tranavia doesn’t want divine magic or the Gods brought back into their country as it is entirely built on blood magic. Both countries are now falling apart, starving and broke due to this long-standing war and will do anything to end it.
After fleeing the monastery Nadya and Anna run into a group of renegades that have defected from their people. Two Akolans (a desert country that isn’t talked about much in book one but may be brought to the forefront later in the series) and a Tranavian, Malachiasz. Nadya and Anna are suspect at first, but the company of renegades convince them that their cause is true, and they have a plan to end the war with her help.
The Gods begrudgingly agree that if Nadya ultimately brings down blood magic and return the Gods to Tranavia that she should go forward but continuously warn her that she is walking a very fine line. A plan is hatched and they all head to enemy territory: Tranavia.
Meanwhile, the High Prince Serafin is suddenly called back to Tranavia where he will be married and told the Vultures will be sent to deal with Nadya. Serafin finds this all too suspicious and upon returning to Tranavia, seeks out the counsel of a witch and after being attacked by assassins and again getting very drunk, finds out he is not so paranoid.
When the Vultures find Nadya, she finds out the Gods are not so paranoid, as Malchiasz, the Tranavian she is traveling with, is a Vulture himself. He didn’t just defect from Tranavia because he wanted to end the war. He is running from the Vultures. After he helps her escape the Vulture attack, he pleads for forgiveness. Nadya must contemplate is this lie number one or the only lie he has told? She forgives him and realizes she has begun falling for him. The Gods are none too pleased. The plan continues.
The plan, the conspiracy against Serafin and the collision of these characters in Tranavia is all kinds of epic but I’m not going there because that would be spoiler territory. There is something generic spoilery I will put at the very end of the review but I will give plenty of warning if you don’t want to read it.
The world building of Kalyazin and Tranavia is brilliantly done and in stark contrast of each other, Tranavia with its oceans and lakes while Kalyazin was ice capped and snow covered, bone chilling cold.
The characters are brilliant shades of gray. There is no good and evil. If you want cut and dry, you aren’t going to find it here. They are all capable good and they have all been damaged, corrupted and have the ability to change either way. Some will surprise you for the better and some will surprise you in ways that make you curse them out. One will make you beg them not to do everything they do step by step. You will plead with them to stop and they. Just. Won’t. Stop. Going. Down. The. Damn. Path.
As for the next piece of the series… well I don’t know exactly where this will go but it will be fun finding out because I don’t think any these characters are any closer to knowing who or what they are than at the beginning of the book. The countries aren’t any closer to resolution. In fact, while none of them are what they were at the beginning, they are probably more confused as to what they are now, or what happens next. So, the next book should be a blast (possibly quite literally)! Blood and bone, stars and moths!
OK. So Below is a very generically written argument against what some are calling a “frenemey” relationship in the book. If you don’t want to read it stop. I kept it as general as possible but there is some spoiler for the end of book, for this one piece.
So, about this relationship. A frenemy arc has a very specific trajectory. And while this relationship starts off on that trajectory Duncan then banks a hard right and drops it to shatter without the fairy tale ending (well not in book one), no neat bow-tie or happily ever ending. And for me? That’s a compliment to the author because guess what everyone? That’s real life. You are ready to throw away your whole belief system because a boy throws you a puppy dog look when he’s shown you time after time he will lie and lie? Well that’s on you. So, I for one cheered how this one ended in book 1 and if she continues to be idiotic in her misguided feelings for said boy? She should get burned. End. Of. Story. That is my opinion. Take it for what it is worth.