Gothic novel ‘Wicked Saints’ underdeveloped

“Wicked Saints” is the debut novel by author Emily A. Duncan and the first in a trilogy. It follows three main characters in a Russian fantasy world where two large countries are stuck in a long, bloody, religious feud. Nadya is a cleric who uses her powers to speak to the gods to try to save her people. Malachiasz is a monster in human skin. Serefin is a prince who must decide who’s right to trust. These three have a common enemy, and must decide whether they are willing to get their hands dirty in order to stop the war to save their people.

What made me want to pick up this book initially was the way it was marketed and hyped all over social media. It was labeled as a gothic, Russian fantasy, and amongst all the oversaturated genres of Young Adult literature these days, it seemed like quite a refreshing idea.

Unfortunately, “Wicked Saints” ended up being a slight disappointment. While its setting is definitely refreshing and the fantasy elements incorporated were unique concepts full of promise, most elements of the story felt very underdeveloped. I was expecting more thriller elements and action scenes, and most of all, enthralling characters.

It felt as though I was supposed to care about the characters, but there wasn’t enough character development to draw me in. Characters are supposed to drive a story. If nothing else, a story should have developed characters the audience will become attached to and keep reading to see how their stories will end. These characters’ development felt too weak to care about what happened.

The only character I was drawn to was Serefin, because out of all the others his personality features were the most distinguishable. He’s a prince with trust issues, fighting for a war he didn’t want to be a part of, yet, it’s all he knows. He’s only seventeen but he’s already so tired with life, just wanting to rest and get along with a father he knows will never care about him. Serefin stuck out because his vulnerabilities and emotions were the most detailed. He seemed the most relatable and human.

Meanwhile, other main characters like Nadya and Malachiasz were severely underdeveloped due to the main focus of the romance between them. It’s such a shame, because these characters both have very interesting qualities about them. Nadya can speak to and call upon the gods to give her powers, while Malachiasz is a deformed monster hiding beneath a regular boy’s face. There is so much riveting detail the author could have applied to them both.

Instead, they were reduced to a weak attempt of enemies-turned-lovers. It’s like Nadya couldn’t go a chapter without reminding the audience what a “gentle, yet terrifying boy” Malachiasz was, and how she should kill him yet how she wouldn’t because she was attracted to him. Nadya’s character was marketed as someone dedicated to saving her people, yet her attraction to Malachiasz seemed to be the strongest aspect of her character, which says almost nothing about her.

Malachiasz’s character had so much promise. There’s so many interesting things that could’ve been done with him. Throughout the story, we mostly saw him through Nadya’s perspective. She always commented on how scary he was, yet he seemed nothing but soft until the ending of the book, when we do get to see a dark part of him. But it isn’t delivered with the amount of intensity it thinks it does.

Lastly, the background characters and the villain are treated as way more important than they actually come across while reading. There’s background characters that main characters like Nadya are supposed to love and care about so much, yet they’re hardly in the novel at all. Even the villain, who’s supposed to be the main threat, is hardly in the story, which makes it difficult to feel threatened by his presence. With the exception of Serefin and his closest friends, the rest of the characters felt more “tell” rather than “show”, when it should be the other way around.

“Wicked Saints” was immediately an attention-grabber with its labeling as gothic, Russian fantasy novel. However, it ended up losing some of its grit due to underdevelopment. If I read the second book, it will only be because of Serefin and his imperfect, charming self. Otherwise, there needs to be improvement in character development to really grab at readers’ heartstrings, and deliver the amount of intensity the novel is trying to achieve.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)