Ya’ll know I like my stories dark and disturbing. But there were times in Emily A. Duncan’s Ruthless Gods where even I was like, “Damn, girl!” Which only means I LOVED this book even while it tore me open and made me bleed.
Ruthless Gods is dark. SO much darker than the first book in the series. This is not your average Disney fairy tale, people. There is going to be no happily ever after for any of these characters. It is so dark that I honestly have no idea how anyone is going to end this adventure still alive and, well, sane.
Starting six months after the end of Wicked Saints, Malachiasz is off still trying to overthrow the gods, Serefin is now king and trying to stave off those who oppose him as well as end the war. And Nadya, poor Nadya, must repair her broken heart and figure out what is next for her now that her gods no longer speak to her. It is as depressing an opening as one will find. Once they finally take action, it is one step forward and two steps back for this trio. Think Empire Strikes Back except they still don’t quite know who the puppeteers are to their puppet states.
As you get to know these characters a bit better, their personalities come to the fore more than they did in the first book, when you were basically trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Serefin is a pawn. He is ruthless in his determination to end the war, but he rarely does anything of his own volition. Rather, he lets others make his decisions and do his dirty work. He is afraid of taking action, and when he finally grows a pair, it is too late.
Malachiasz is literally the Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde of Eastern Europe mythology. You want to love him because he is capable of such depths of love and longing. But his Mr. Hyde state is brutal. His outward appearance in this form mirrors the depths of his depravity. I ended the novel not trusting a word out of his mouth and not even wanting his redemption. His ability to repeatedly manipulate and hurt those who love him make him a lost figure to me.
My heart lies with Nadya, our Joan of Arc figure. She is still too gullible and naive for her own good, but she creates a mothering instinct in you where you just want to protect her and make sure she is happy. She trusts Malachiasz too much, even though she says she doesn’t. My heart literally ached for her throughout the entire novel because I don’t want her to get hurt once again. For this reason, all my hopes are with Nadya. I want to see her become a badass bitch in the finale. I want her to stop being reactive and start being proactive. I want her to hurt Malachiasz as much as he hurt her, maybe more.
Also, can we just take a minute to appreciate the fact that Ms. Duncan’s world takes place in a pseudo-Slavic world? It makes sense then that the story is so dark because if you know anything about Slavic/Polish history, you know it is nothing but misery. Their myths and folklore are going to reflect their experiences, and their experiences include nothing but being conquered over and over again. Plus, I just really like the names and the fact that I can pronounce them correctly.
Ruthless Gods was my most anticipated release for 2020, and I am so glad to say that it did not disappoint. In fact, my respect for Ms. Duncan only increased because she refused to let her characters settle or take the easy route through their adventures. In my opinion, she gives Jay Kristoff a run for his money in creating characters you adore and then breaks your heart with the pain and suffering he puts them through, and I love that. I love the despair that oozes from the pages. I love that she rivals any horror novelist for terrifying, gory af scenes that mentally imprint themselves into your brain. Ruthless Gods is disturbing and somewhat depressing but you care so much for Nadya and want to see Serefin and Malachiasz receive their comeuppance that you keep going and find yourself falling in love with this very unusual, deliciously evil story.