HC UPR Recommends: Wicked Saints

For our first day in this five-part series,  HC UPR is recommending Emily A. Duncan’s upcoming YA Slavic fantasy debut “Wicked Saints”. This novel is set to release on April 2, 2019, by Wednesday Books. Through its warlike themes, Duncan’s debut tells the story of three young adults who are trying their best to stay alive and to find a final solution to the war that’s been raging across their lands for years.

 

Our medley of characters consists of Nadya, a cleric who can talk to gods. Then we have a booze-loving prince who fears for his life, better known as Serefin. Last but not least, we have a monster boy who is trying his best at basically everything called Malachiasz. (What’s not to love?) Together, they have one mission: assassinating a king and ending the war for good. But believe me, Wicked Saints ends up being more than just an assassination mission. It shows us how something dark and holy (hah! see what I did there?) can coexist across the lands of Kalyazin and Tranavia, and how it affects each and every one of our main characters in different ways with its magic, secrets, and unknown forces of power.

Earlier this year, I got the chance to read an advanced reader’s copy (or ARC) of Wicked Saints and ever since I finished this book I’ve been rambling about it nonstop! The main reason why Wicked Saints ended up being such a fantastic read for me is that it felt like something different. The setting and the characters, the plot and the effects of the ongoing war, the magic and the writing, it all felt like something fresh, and I loved how it ended up being way darker than I expected. Which surprised and relieved me since, as I usually do, I decided to pick this up without really knowing what I was getting into. But three months later I can assure you that going in blind was totally worth it!

 

The story

Wicked Saints has one amazing and complex story I loved from beginning to end. Being a slavic fantasy, I won’t deny that at the beginning I was a little lost with the names, but once I finally got the hang of them, there was no turning back and I’m still not sure if that was a good thing or not. But anywho! As the characters we met struggle to survive, a story full of intrigue, mysteries, blood magic, and paganism comes to life. The teals threaten to swallow you whole—and it succeeds. My favorite thing about it was the fact that it was darker, deeper and easier to follow than I expected. After all, I paused my read and picked it up a couple of weeks later with no problem at all! Also, don’t be fooled to think that Wicked Saints is just a dark story full of a war between the faithful and heretics, blood and with no humor at all. You’d/You’ll be surprised for what this has in store!

 

The characters

With their world at war for so long, Nadya, Serefine, and Malachiasz are morally ambiguous (things really aren’t so black and white) but then again, so does every other character they meet through their journey through and out of the battlefield. They’ve all done horrible things in order to survive. You better believe me when I tell you: they won’t hesitate to come at you in order to reach their goals. This makes them all the more likable because it shows us their strength and determination to try and mend the wounds of those affected by the war.

If I were to choose one character as my favorite, I believe that’d be Nadya. Don’t get me wrong, I loved almost every other main and secondary character because they were very relatable, but Nadya was a keeper. The main appeal of her character comes from being able to see her struggling to survive, and to come to terms with who she is; her magic, her relationship with the gods, her beliefs, and especially her place in the world. She’s a powerful cleric, she can talk to the gods and do their will, but is that all she is?

The world

The world presented to us has been ravaged by the war between the Kalyazi and the heretics from Tranavia, it’s no secret that the atmosphere around the lands the main characters travel through on their journey is dark and tense. And that was great. What I loved the most about this world was how we’re able to see the contrast between Kalyazi and Tranavia and how the war is affecting them. On Tranavia, the king enjoys his life and busies himself as if nothing is going on outside of his palace. In contrast, on Kalyaz, we see how the heretic troops continue to move forward and displace people from their homes and so on, setting the perfect mood for this story: distress.

 

The magic

Honestly, the magic is like my second favorite thing about Wicked Saints and there’s no point in denying it. I loved how it, once again, emphasizes on the differences between Kalyazi and Tranavia with the way it shows you how on one side (Kalyazi) the gods and their favors are still regarded as important and powerful, which is emphasized/or shown through Nadya’s magic, while on the other side (Tranavia) the power that rules over them has morphed into something darker and suffocating; blood magic, which is why they’re known as heretics, hated by the Kalyazi and why they’re still fighting a war. This so hated blood magic is basically powerful written spells that get activated with blood, something that could be a trigger warning for some if you’re not comfortable with characters dealing with blades around their hands in order to use their magic. But still, the way you get to see how both sides of this magic work and how their users feel about it is a very interesting perspective that will leave you wanting to know more about everything!

 

If you’re looking for a dark Slavic fantasy that surprises you with its twists and turns, Wicked Saints might be just what you’re looking for! It’s one bloody, fun and gripping adventure that won’t let you go until the very last page and even though it may hurt you at some point, I promise the pain is completely worth it! Also, let’s not forget about the fact that there’s a forbidden romance! I just refuse to talk about it just in case I spoil something, but do know that it’s very, very good so make sure to keep an eye out for this one!