Religion, politics, and magic are twined together in Wicked Saints, the first book in Emily A. Duncan’s Something Dark and Wicked trilogy, and it should be more interesting than it is.
Wicked Saints is the story of Nadya, a cleric from the war-torn country of Kalyazi, the first of her countrymen to have magic in a very long time. She is able to access her magic by the grace of the gods, the entire pantheon of which she is able to commune with by touching a particular bead on her necklace. When the monastery in which she’s been raised is attacked by Serefin, the High Prince of Tranavia and a powerful blood mage, she escapes and runs into an odd trio – two Akolans and a defected Tranavian – who join her on her quest to kill the Tranavian king.
At first, there was something really intriguing about the way Duncan connects religion, politics, and magic. Nadya spends much of the book struggling to reconcile the new information she’s learning with what we she was raised to believe, and there are some really excellent musings on faith. However, none of this stuff really goes anywhere until near the end of the book, when it all collides in mass confusion and a rather anti-climactic final battle.
As this is the first in a trilogy, it makes sense that Wicked Saints would spend the first book developing the world and the characters. Unfortunately, there isn’t much development of either. The world is muddy, the politics glossed over, the magic system messy. You don’t get a real sense of scale. It’s very well-written, and the descriptions of architecture are nice enough, but at times it was difficult for me to get a picture in my head. The plot moves from situation to situation at a pretty solid pace, but that’s all it does. There’s no real depth, no impending sense of doom.
It was difficult to connect to any of the characters. Of the two POV characters, Serefin was the more interesting. Through him we got the barest glimpse of the politics, and he had most of the development as he dealt with the royal plot to rob him of his throne. Nadya, as the other POV, felt like a supporting character in her own story. The focus during almost all of her chapters was Malachiasz, the Tranavian who defected. Their relationship is telegraphed a mile away, and as much as I like the enemies-to-lovers trope, it isn’t handled well here. Their only real reason for being enemies is that their countries are at war, and their only reason for getting together is because that’s what’s expected to happen.
It’s frustrating that such a strong and capable female character has so little agency, going so far as to not even be the protagonist in her own POV chapters. She doesn’t do anything. She’s meant to be the chosen one, to end the war and bring the gods back to Travania, yet all she does is follow behind Malachiasz, even as he keeps things from her. The tagline of this book is “Let them fear her”, and she doesn’t do anything worth fearing.
Honestly, the two Akolans, Rashid and Parijahan, were the most interesting characters (and the only POCs – plus I believe Rashid is LGBTQ+) so naturally we see very little of them, nor do we get much of their backstory.
Wicked Saints is a good enough read. It’s a decent story, it’s interesting, and it goes quickly. But it’s difficult for me to forgive it for the sins it commits against its female lead. I’m tired of badass female characters who get reduced to the love interest even in their own stories.
Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan is published by Wednesday Books and will be available April 2, 2019, wherever books are sold.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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