I have been sitting on this review for weeks and with the release now imminent, I should probably post it. I believe the review is spoiler free for both books.
Thank you so much to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own.
I read Wicked Saints as an ARC last year and enjoyed the basis of the story, but if you all remember I just absolutely hate her writing style. I found Duncan’s writing repetitive to the nauseatingly “I need to skim” point of being terrible. A good author would take that significant round of criticism from Wicked Saints and build a better novel in Ruthless Gods….but OH god was I wrong in thinking it would happen. (My review of Wicked Saints
Here is the description for Ruthless Gods:
Darkness never works alone…
Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who–and what–he’s become.
As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.
The first thing to note is that book one was supposed to be Nadya’s (HAHAH), this is Serefin’s (got it, he was no hero though) and book three is to be Malachiasz’s. I don’t think Duncan is doing a great job of clarifying this but Serefin did have a very large, if not incidentally passive at times role in this book. I will come back to him later on but do appreciate the title character having a firmer role.
So. Duncan’s writing. If I had to read “*one of 5 adjectives* + boy” one more time I would have DNF’d, and almost did. Again. Duncan has the continent’s ENTIRE future political leadership trekking across the country together in this book and all they do is continue to pine and chase each other’s tails. Maybe the hunter couldn’t have done much politically but can we treat Serefin like the actual king of Tranavia? The entire trek could have been EPIC and brilliant and all we got was more of “blah blah I was betrayed blah and now I’m afraid but let’s kiss again…” and Nadya’s broken record just played, and played, and played. The plot and mechanisms did advance but it took a lot of weeding through nonsense to get there.
Oh yeah, Nadya thinks that she learned but she really learned nothing from book 1 and she’s still terrible. She is changing but doesn’t seem to be internalizing any of her lessons, although Kostya comes back long enough to force some true self-reflection. That particular dynamic was surprising and one of the more interesting ones. Nadya is basically a punching bag and while she knows it, she doesn’t seem to care.
Duncan did do a better job showing monstrosity versus just talking about it, but again it was so repetitive. I liked the shifting faces and did like her take on the gods and monsters and older beings, but she could have used Nadya’s broken record headspace to talk more about some of the Slavic lore she was throwing out in names and titles only. That is something I’d like to have read about. Think Winternight Trilogy – if you’re going to mention the Chyerti why not talk about them?
Serefin was my favorite character again because he is amazing, even though Duncan turned him into the token “other” character. I really think Ostyia would have been enough in that department but she got sidelined plot wise. Serefin and his moths and his bad vision and his nonexistent brutality (talk talk talk, never shown) just make me happy, and I think he had the most interesting arc in this book. If nothing else Duncan did use his and Malachiasz’s time together to explain all of the Tranavian political hierarchy that was missing from Wicked Saints. I fully enjoyed the parts in Serefin’s head where he was grappling with the God-Monster-Deity-Chyerti-Other.
The ending sounded cool but that last sentence…was a terrible word choice. It sounded cool but ENTROPY doesn’t even fit, just say his name already. It was almost enough of a cliffhanger to make me think about book 3, but the plot is not enough to cancel out Duncan’s writing. I will be waiting for the cliffnotes version.
Last but not least: the @OneReadingNurse infamous medical rant. Have you ever actually seen a pupil blow? I have. Someone having a stroke? A blown pupil is TERRIFYING, and having someone’s pupils “blow open” is A TERRIBLE choice of phrase for someone surprised or experiencing adrenaline. Not only that but I think it was used at least 3 times throughout the book and I just don’t understand why an editor didn’t clam this up
This is the second book this year that shut me down in the middle of a trilogy, *cough* Heart of Flames * cough*. These are the authors that must not read their critical reviews and editorial advice at all. I haven’t posted it yet but when I feature The Silvered Serpents, I will highlight and throw praises down on Roshani Chokshi for elevating her second book above and beyond the first in every conceivable way. Duncan and Pau Preto need to learn from her!
In summary: if you liked Wicked Saints, read Ruthless Gods, if not or if you were on the fence, stay away. Ruthless Gods IS marginally better but I personally can’t do it for a third novel.