Title: Blessed Monsters
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 528
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Notable Notables: Dark, gothic atmosphere with eldritch horror descriptions; villain romance; diverse LGBTQA+ cast
Recommended Readers: No one; I fear we’ve jumped the shark
CAWPILE Rating: 3.57
Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
For the record, I’m not going to be reviewing the author and her behavior here but the book. If you’re curious about the former, plenty of folks on Goodreads have already done so for me. I have, frankly, read much better from much worse people.
So what’s the deal with Blessed Monsters by Emily A. Duncan? Well, it turns out it’s better than Ruthless Gods, but it’s still not good. Descriptions of cosmic horrors and eldritch monsters were emphasized vastly over setting, so I never got a clear sense of where we were in Kalyazin. Characters would be at a nondescript palace, manor, safe house, graveyard, capital city, etc., and then they would be at the next nondescript place. So my brain did what it does: imagined whatever it wanted with nothing to ground its imaginings. Neither author nor editor has gotten a handle on the comma splices, either, so they were beyond annoying, along with the “noun and noun and noun and noun” description style. Whatever weight those had before gets beaten to death in this book. Whatever enthusiasm I had left for this trilogy was slowly chipped away as I read, to the point where even if other books were planned to be set in this world, I wouldn’t reach for them.
As with the first two books, the strongest feature here that I found was with the focus on its lore: the gods, the magic, and all the facets of life that are affected by them, especially now that the world is apparently ending as Chyrnog slowly takes over Malachiasz. At last, our characters are focused on the actual plot, namely how to stop Chyrnog and set the world back in order. Nadya is finally focused on what matters now that she thinks that Malachiasz is dead. I was so happy to have her back and away from Malachiasz for an extended period of time. I was even happy to have many chapters where Serefin and Malachiasz were forced to interact and navigate their whole brother thing. This was all sorely missing from Ruthless Gods.
And then I realized I had read over half of the book, and nothing was happening. Nadya and Malachiasz inevitably, unfortunately, reunite, and my interest plummeted. We have a decently-sized cast here that slowly came together, but they were all Extremely Cool with each other for no reason other than Duncan wanting everyone to get along. In the previous book, Malachiasz killed Nadya’s god, Serefin killed Malachiasz, and Nadya destroyed Tranavia’s access to blood magic. All three of these characters betrayed each other in enormous ways, but aside from them wringing their hands, worrying that the other two must hate them for their actions, it turns out they needn’t have bothered. Everything is fine actually! We’re all cool! Let’s all hug and kiss and have a trite argument, and then it’s all fine!
Even when Katya kills Zywia, Malachiasz’s right hand Vulture who he apparently views as a sister even though this is the first time I’ve heard it, everyone is fine with it. Even Malachiasz. Oh, sure, he’s tense and angry for a few pages, but who cares? Nothing at all comes of it. No consequences. We also never ever talk with any weight about the fact that Malachiasz is now eating people under Chyrnog’s compulsion because why should we? Let’s just make deadpan remarks and witticisms about it instead. Dealing with the old gods situation matters more, except the characters spend most of the book not doing anything about that, either. We have eight to nine people in the same area, and all of them just constantly wonder, “What should we do?” for a whole book. It’s like watching a DnD campaign where the players decide not to actively search for information; they just sit in a tavern and on the rare occasions where they deign to not sit in the tavern, the DM gives them absolutely nothing to work with.
What could’ve helped make this a bit more interesting to read would’ve been having our cast work through their lingering problems with each other. Except, no, we can’t have any real conflict between our precious main characters, can we? We have to force found family dynamics by ignoring everything that could cause the slightest bit of friction between them. Which, okay, but that does make it very boring reading when you have seven plus characters on the same page who have no tension between them. Everyone in this book has the exact same sense of humor, even random, barely-there characters. Everyone is cuddling and kissing each other, so you know they Love Each Other Very Much. Everyone sounds like everyone else, even Serefin, who in the past always stood out to me in more distinctive ways.
In fact, Serefin, who was my main reason for reading this trilogy, almost might as well not have been here after his Malachiasz-bonding scenes were over. I barely recognized him in this book, which kept affirming that he was charming, but the charm was all but absent. He really was here only because the plot demanded he had to be. I was proud of him from accepting his role as king and choosing to stop running, but he didn’t get much chance to actually demonstrate that resolve here. We never even went to Tranavia where all his political issues are. He also largely stopped drinking as a coping mechanism despite relying on it for two books, but he experienced no side effects or withdrawal symptoms, which was pretty unrealistic.
But besides the main three characters, what’s going on with the rest of the cast? Nothing, really. Ostyia is brutally shafted to the side for a lesbian romance with Katya that happens largely off-page, so why should I care? I don’t. Kacper is there just to kiss Serefin and assure him he loves him even though Serefin is king and will have all the responsibility a king is expected to have.
For two books, I kept waiting for Parijahan and Rashid to be developed as characters and explained why they are involved with this plot and these people, and I was so let down. Turns out the answer is Plot Conveniences and to assert that more people like Malachiasz as a person besides Nadya. I learned that Parj’s magic is unconscious of her control, and it’s some sort of rational magic. Apparently, the reason why Malachiasz becomes less chaotic/more human—especially in Wicked Saints—is all due to Parj’s magical influence, and I cannot begin to summarize how much I hated that. I also learned that Rashid has rare healing magic, and you know in that moment exactly what that means he’ll be using it for: resurrecting dead main characters.
Since I’m bringing up Malachiasz, let’s get this out of the way: I officially will never like or understand this character, and people who say he’s like the Darkling or Kylo Ren do owe those characters an apology. I have never seen the amount of pretzeling that these books do to justify this character’s actions while constantly flip-flopping between “unrepentant monster” and “he’s just a scared boy uwu.” While he doesn’t get called a “boy” as much here as in Ruthless Gods, it’s still way too much. For the first time in Blessed Monsters, Malachiasz reveals that he gave away the rest of his soul somehow, and that’s why Chyrnog has control of him. The book (and Nadya) believes his lack of soul is why Malachiasz acts without conscience or remorse for anything he does. Meanwhile, Malachiasz’s POV chapters constantly demonstrate his guilt, hee-hawing, and inconsistencies. So what is the truth? Who knows? Who cares?
Blessed Monsters affirmed for me why Malachiasz is such a poorly written character as a villain because not once has he actually had a goal or a purpose. He constantly thinks he does while floundering between choices nonstop. Now that I’ve read this book’s lackluster conclusion where Everyone Passes Out at the End, I can confidently say that Malachiasz never achieved any goal he claimed he had because he’s still in the exact same position as when he started. Sure, he has eyeball clusters popping up every second and mouths everywhere, but so what? He’s still mortal, he’s still the Black Vulture, his country’s still a wreck, the old gods are sealed off but not destroyed, he killed Marzenya but it’s loudly implied she’ll be reborn, so what was it all for?
I am glossing over how different magic is in the world now, but as far as I can tell, that’s the only thing that’s truly changed that matters. Serefin is still this godstouched moth king that can handle stars, but so what? Nadya is made of the same stuff as the old gods and accepts her power as hers, but so what? The eldritch descriptions have become so repetitive that they’ve become blasé even to the other characters in the book. No one reacts realistically to the stars around Serefin’s head or Nadya’s spider eyes, and even if normal people existed in Blessed Monsters, I’m sure they wouldn’t have any kind of reaction either. Anna sure doesn’t.
In a 528 page book that’s a conclusion to a trilogy, I expected so much more to be accomplished than what actually was, to the point where it strongly feels like other books in this world might be planned, but I don’t care anymore. This was the place where the landing needed to stick, where I could sit back and be glad that I invested the time I did in this world and these characters. Instead, all was wasted on the characters having a lack of direction for the entire thing, but don’t worry! There are plenty of scenes featuring empty conversation, quippy responses, cuddle time, and reminders that eldritch horrors are happening, which we’ll skip over as quickly as we can.