My rating: 2.75 of 5 stars
Thank you, Macmillan, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
He had lied, he was a monster, but still she cared.
I became interested in this book mainly because of its paradoxical title. As a lover of words, I found it very clever. Moreover, trusted reviewers were spreading much hype on social media, so I became all the more curious. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed.
Wicked Saints is about two kingdoms, Kalyazin and Tranavia. They have been at war for a century because of differences in theology. The Kalyazi are devout believers in a pantheon of gods, while the Tranavians are practically atheists who value human agency above all else. Nadya, the heroine, is the last cleric of Kalyazin. Before her birth, her kingdom didn’t have any holy magician for around 30 years, thanks to the heretics (blood mages) of Tranavia. One day, Serefin, the Tranavian High Prince, invades Nadya’s monastery, killing her loved ones and forcing her to flee to the snowy mountains. There, she meets Malachiasz, a boy with so many dangerous secrets. Little does she know that he might be the key to ending the war for good.
While reading, my first impression was that the plot was reminiscent of Avatar: the Last Airbender. Here are the most glaring similarities:
1. Kalyazi, Tranavia, and Akola = Air Nomads, the Fire Nation, and the Water Tribe respectively
2. Nadya = Aang (both of them were Chosen Ones who lived in elevated locations)
3. Serefin = Zuko (both of them were literally scarred princes with bad fathers)
4. Parijahan and Rashid = Katara and Sokka respectively (both heterosexual pairs were loyal sidekicks)
I honestly didn’t want to compare the author’s debut novel to the Avatar series since I knew that doing so would diminish my enjoyment. Nonetheless, my brain kept on making the connections; I constantly imagined the protagonists as Avatar characters. As a result, I couldn’t shake off my jadedness until I discovered original plot points in the second half of the book. Thankfully, the given comparisons won’t matter to readers who aren’t familiar with Aang and his world of elemental powers. I didn’t put Malachiasz on the list because he was similar to someone from a different series: the Darkling from the Grisha trilogy. Hmm…before I forget, Nadya also reminded me of Percy Jackson in that her powers also came from mythical gods. Gah, I should stop making comparisons! Hahaha.
My second problem was the abundance of graphic descriptions. Since two of the three MCs were mages who required blood to cast spells, there were many scenes in which they cut their arms, fingers, and palms with razors sewn into their long-sleeved outfits. I was particularly perturbed when one of the protagonists was placed on a platform full of glass shards. It was difficult to imagine all the blood that flowed from the numerous cuts on his/her back. You can call me a squeamish reader, but you need to understand that such descriptions might trigger self-harm, especially among those with mental health issues. It probably wouldn’t hurt if the author didn’t explicitly mention the act of cutting whenever the characters performed magic. After all, as blood mages, the act was already implied.
My last complaint was that the penultimate part of the book seemed fragmented. The missing pieces made it challenging to comprehend the sudden change in Nadya and Malachiasz’s relationship. To be fair, I read an advance copy, so perhaps I can be enlightened when I check out the final edition. Still, as someone who has been blogging for two years, I know that it’s rare for ARCs to be this confusing. It would be a shame if the omission of details turned out to be deliberate.
Looking at the glass half-full, the book didn’t suffer from slow pacing or uneventfulness. It might have been because Nadya and her friends were always plotting something and executing their plans without delay. With that said, there was a perfect balance between showing and telling. Furthermore, I enjoyed the Russian setting/vibe of the story even though some of the names and terms were hard to pronounce. Come to think of it, the similarities I detected weren’t necessarily detrimental since they enabled me to comprehend the complex world quickly.
Overall, Wicked Saints is a fast-paced fantasy with lots of familiar faces. The sense of déjà vu that I had was predominantly negative, but it might be positive for readers who intentionally look for books that remind them of their favorite fictional characters. If you plan to read this novel someday, be sure not to dwell on its bloody content.