Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

In the direct aftermath of completing Emily A. Duncan’s debut novel, Wicked Saints, I must admit that I am battling between two opposing schools of thought. However, before I delve into my review, Wicked Saints conveys the story of three young adults whose fate lines converge in a context of a ruthless and bloodthirsty war. Nadya is the seventeen-year-old cleric of Kalyazin who is the first in many years to be the chosen vessel of the Gods of Kalyazin. Nadya communicates with the Gods, and thus can utilise their divine power. She represents hope for the many people of Kalyazin as she can turn the tide of the war and bring success to her country. The war itself is with the ‘heretics’ of Tranavia and it is here where we are introduced to the second character, the High Prince Serefin of Tranavia. He is one of the most powerful blood mages of his country and since the age of sixteen, has been in the front lines of war with Kalyazin. It is Serefin and his troops who find the hideaway monastery where Nadya was training and it is there where this entire story begins.


But what about the third character?


Well, I will be talking about Malachiasz, my precious monster child, soon.


Wicked Saints is very much a novel that explores the grey areas of morality as well as the effects of war and the questioning of religion as an institution. But it also is about finding your identity when all you’ve known is who you are categorised a certain way. In terms of plot, it is mostly a journey. A literal one to the capital city of Tranavia, where the king lies. Nadya, along with a ragtag group of three others, Rashid and Parijahan from the country of Akola and of course, Malachiasz who in the beginning is drowning in mystery and blood, create a plan to end the war by killing the King – with the idea that if you kill the King you win the war. What occurs is Nadya accidentally becoming embroiled in a bitter battle for the High Prince’s hand and realising that Serefin is more than just a murderous blood mage, but a boy trying to survive.

Though the premise of the story was quite original, I felt that at times it fell flat. I mostly believe this is because I found the main female protagonist, Nadya, to be not quite what I wanted in a badass warrior – she came across as too brainwashed and rigid in her beliefs. Which I understand why, as that was all she ever knew, but when she was brought into discussions that critiqued the role of religion and the war as a result of it, she came off incredibly defensive and annoying. But again, I understand why! It just made the character slightly annoying and exhausting to read.

There is also a romanced element between Nadya and Malachiasz which was oddly cute but again, seemed too fast and strangely out of place. Although it did result in the cutest and humane scenes between them, I felt that it was more so to emphasise that Malachiasz did have a heart and he could feel, but his ambitions were bigger than teenage love.

I felt as though in terms of the plot, nothing super amazing occurred. It is a novel that was completely character driven, which is not a ‘bad’ thing as I do need to feel a connection with the characters in order for me to get invested in them and in their story; but, the plot and storylines of the characters could have been executed better in terms of delivering that impact-factor to the audience.

For me, the fact that Nadya’s powers were dependent on whether the Gods decided to give her their power at any point in time, was not an aspect of the plot that was really developed and explored in detail – it was made redundant over halfway through the novel as Nadya realised that she had immense power for herself. Which was quite a predictable way of handling her character, because even then, it was implied that Nadya’s ability to access her own power was a result of Malachiasz’s power being used through her in battle – in that, he sort of ‘punched’ his power through her which then broke down the barriers and allowed her to access her own power.

Honestly, at times the ‘power’ and ‘magic’ aspect was confusing as well as the reasons as to why there was a war between Kalyazin and Tranavia.

The character of Serefin though, is one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. His perspective offered a different take on the war and the effects it had on him as a person, a blood mage and as a son. I was more emotionally invested in Serefin’s character because we did get to witness a personal growth, or more of a discovery of who Serefin decided he wanted to be and his actions to ensure that he live and be a King that was more and better than his own father. Serefin’s character arc was filled with ruthlessness and intrigue, especially after he realises that his own father wants to sacrifice him for his power which the King succeeds in – but then, Serefin is resurrected and possibly ‘God-like’, but again, that is also quite ambiguous. I do believe that the sequel to the Wicked Saints will deepen our understanding of what exactly happened in the final and concluding moments of each of the characters in the novel, but at the moment I am filled with questions and emotion!

Especially because my precious monster child, Malachiasz, is human but not. Malachiasz’s character was one that I knew was not all he seemed, and I had my suspicions that he was the Black Vulture – which is the ‘King’ or leader of the Vultures, which are the most powerful blood mages that are not quite human. He ran away from the group he presided over because he wanted a way to end the war without the slaughtering of his people. Everything that Malachiasz did, ‘accidentally’ bumping into Nadya etc., was deliberate. He had a plan. And I loved his character. Malachiasz’s perspective is the only one that we don’t get, which immediately raises a red flag in that we know he is not a ‘hero’ in this story – but I really would have loved to have read his perspective. I think he, out of Nadya and Serefin, has the most interesting and unique character background which would have been incredible to explore. The ending of Wicked Saints didn’t really work for me, for the reasons I have mentioned above, but also in the way that Malachiasz’s character arc ended. He drinks the blood of the killed King, who at this stage had received ‘God-like’ abilities after sacrificing his son, Serefin, and drinking his blood (but who then is resurrected for whatever reason). After drinking the blood, Malachiasz perspective is then given as the epilogue which is where we witness him completely losing his identity, losing the ability to remember his name, and becoming a creature who is not human but is.

Malachiasz is not the villain, not evil in any sense but operates in the morally grey area which could also be said for Nadya and Serefin. So I hope that the sequel doesn’t paint him as this unnecessarily evil tyrant who kills mercilessly. Malachiasz character deserves better!

Until next time, happy reading!

Alexandra Ciaffaglione

I am a devourer of books and lover of fictional worlds, a full-time research student of gender and sexuality in education.


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