Wicked Saints

400p. (Something Dark and Holy: Bk. 1). Wednesday Bks. Apr. 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250195661.
Gr 8 Up—A holy war, religious fanaticism, and magical (perhaps divine) powers propel Duncan's protagonists through a Slavic-inspired warscape littered with church ruins and superstition. In the country of Kalyazin, Nadya has been raised in a fortified monastery, the last of the clerics, imbued with magic from the gods that only she can hear. Serefin, heir to the throne of Tranavia and heretical blood mage, can barely remember when he was not on the battlefield. The long-running hostility between their two countries brings them together through circuitous plot developments and uneasy alliances. The core characters include Malachiasz, a mysterious, dangerous mage with secrets that could destroy both nations. The steady action moves through a well-built world with Russian-inspired names that add to the strong sense of setting. Nadya, Malachiasz, and Serefin's trajectories meet and merge, with the attraction between Nadya and Malachiasz a bit awkwardly developed. Nadya's intimate conversations with the divine saints have the tone of teasing family squabbles, which makes the moment the saints turn malevolent disconcertingly scary. Densely descriptive prose flows smoothly despite a sometimes uneven pace, with lush, specific depictions of magic that are compelling. The conclusion is oddly anticlimactic, despite regicide and filicide, but certainly leaves room for a sequel to address those threads left untied.
VERDICT Purchase where Leigh Bardugo's books have a following.

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