REVIEW BY MARIA GIL
Recap: Book 1 – Wicked Saints
Wicked Saints is the story of Nadezhda (Nadya) Lapteva — a young girl who lives in a monastery in Kalyazi, a nation where people believe in gods and are granted magical abilities by these gods. She is the last known cleric in her land and the only one who can speak to all the gods. Nadya has been given an impossible fate since her birth — save Kalyazi from their neighboring country Tranavian and return the gods to Tranavian. Living in a bubble of a protected monastery, Nadya had accepted her fate and throughout most of the book we see her stay true to her beliefs, thinking the Kalyazi gods were going to be the saviours during difficult times. Her bubble begins to pop when she ventures outside her closed world. Nadya starts to see problems in everything she was familiar with. It felt very real. Especially since her core belief and values still dominated her decision-making to the very last page.
After Nadya’s monastery (and home) is attacked by Tranavian prince Serefin Meleski, she begins the adventure that was expected from her since birth. Along the way, she meets dark, conflicted soft boy Malachiasz Czechowicz, a Tranavian blood-mage who also wants to end the century-long war between Kalyazi and Tranavian. The two try to do the one thing that could end the war — assassinating the king of Tranavian.
Review: Book 2 – Ruthless Gods
Ruthless Gods, the sequel to Emily A. Duncan’s debut novel Wicked Saints, is set several months after the events of book one as Nadya tries to get the pantheon of gods talking to her as she lives in Serefin’s castle under a false title. Serefin, now king, is trying to keep his country from falling apart while dealing with a strange voice in his head. After an attempted assassination on Serefin and Nadya, the two quickly flee the Tranavian. They must now figure out how to stop the war between Tranavian and Kalyazi and decide what to do with Malachiasz, who is being corrupted by magic too powerful that is driving him mad.
This gothic fantasy is set on a background of Eastern European Slavic folklore and culture, distinguishing it from most other young adult fantasy that is based on Western Europe folklore. The magic system is also inspired by Joan d’Arc’s story and Dungeons and Dragons clerics, making it the perfect novel for those who are into the popular table-top roleplaying game.
Much like the first novel, Ruthless Gods, is narrated through multiple points of view. Nadya and Serefin are still the main characters. The world-building takes the back seat in this novel, and more information of the gods and how they came to be is revealed.
My biggest complaint about the sequel is the weird pacing in the first 100 pages of the novel. I found myself thinking it was moving too fast and then too slow, and I could not calculate the passage of time in the plot accurately. It was distracting and left me a bit confused about how long they had been searching for the magical holy forest. But after the 100-page mark, the pacing goes back to normal and it’s easier to keep track of the passage of time.
Unlike Wicked Saints, Ruthless Gods focuses more on character arcs as Serefin, Nadya and Malachiasz begin to question everything they know and forge their own paths in an attempt to save their respective nations. Duncan said this novel is perfect for those who felt cheated by the Star Wars franchise’s destruction of the Reylo (Rey and Kylo Ren) ship. The “I hate you, but I actually love you even though you are my enemy” vibes between Nadya and Malachiasz is the relationship Reylo fans deserved.
The second book of the Something Dark and Holy trilogy is a must-read if you are in desperate need for a dark fantasy about girls with daggers, anxious princes, melodramatic goth boys and Slavic monsters that will haunt your dreams.
Trigger warning: Self-harm involved, the Tranavian blood mages need their blood to perform spells, so they are frequently cutting their forearms and fingers to get blood.
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Publication Date: 14 April 2020
RRP: $19.99 AUD
Personal Rating: 4.5/5