INTERVIEW: Emily A. Duncan, author of Wicked Saints and Ruthless Gods

These are dark times we’re living in, and dark times can call for even darker books. New York Times bestselling author Emily A. Duncan’s 2019 series opener Wicked Saints is pretty dark, filled as it is with holy wars, paganesque gods, blood magic, bleak settings, and mysterious cults. Can anyone be trusted? Probably not. I had a chat with Emily about the second installment of the series, Ruthless Gods, which, incidentally, comes out today.

MM: Without getting too spoilery, what can we expect from Ruthless Gods? How will it be different from Wicked Saints?
EAD: I like to say that Ruthless Gods is the last 90 pages of Wicked Saints, but this time for 500+ pages. It’s weirder, darker, and also a lot slower (I grew up on fantasy doorstoppers and I immediately went back to my roots with this book haha) . There’s a bewildering amount of blood, eyes where no eyes should be (and also teeth? at one point? it’s fine), a lot of intense conversations, and a lot of kissing. It’s different because Wicked Saints leaned into a lot of YA tropes that we all know and love, albeit turning them slightly. Ruthless Gods does not do that at all. Rather I ignore most YA conventions because I wanted to do something else! I love Ruthless Gods a lot, it’s a bizarre book that was extremely hard to write but very satisfying to have written.

MM: One concept that especially fascinated me from Wicked Saints was the possibility of “ascending into godhood,” that so-called divine beings could have originally been something else and could have acquired so much power, they came to be regarded as gods. That concept can have some parallels to our own world. Did you do that on purpose, or was this just an ultra-cool idea exclusively for the world of the trilogy?
EAD: It wasn’t really a concept I got out of any kind of research, rather it made sense for the structure of the world and for what was driving the characters (well, two characters in particular) forward. I find it an interesting theological discussion in a fantasy context! And I find it interesting as a motivator for characters. I’ve always loved stories of mages reaching for too much power (Dragonlance! The Legends trilogy about the Majere twins in particular) and what better way to get too much power than to ascend to godhood?

MM: If this trilogy were to be turned into a TV series, who would be
your dream cast?

EAD: I’m going to turn this one on its head because actually I would want it to be animated. I think it would work so well animated. Like
“Castlevania” but with an Eastern European flair to the art style. Also I have no facecasts. I have a lot of Eastern European models that I think at certain angles with the right lighting look like the characters though. And Anya Taylor-Joy does look like Nadya, I will grant that.

MM: What was it like to write a sequel? Furthermore, what was it like to write an entire novel and have to do edits on a deadline? How did that compare to the experience of writing Wicked Saints?
EAD: Extremely difficult! Incredibly hard! I had 18 months to write this book and I took every single second of that! Wicked Saints was actually written very quickly. I wrote it in a few months and had it revised and ready to query before a year had passed. Ruthless Gods was just a different beast altogether. It wasn’t even necessarily the pressure, more just that I knew that what I wanted to do would require me to level up as a writer and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to manage it. I think I did though? Absolutely would not have been able to do it without my editor and her willingness to suffer drafts that were just complete messes.

MM: In an interview last year, you stated that one of the main takeaways of Wicked Saints was that it is okay to question things. Is there a new takeaway for Ruthless Gods, or does it build on the theme that is okay (and even good) to challenge power structures?
EAD: I would say it builds on that theme. A lot of Ruthless Gods is breaking down what we thought we knew as truth in Wicked Saints, and realizing that maybe everyone is a little bit wrong and a little bit right on both sides of the war because maybe there’s more to everything that none of them are seeing. Does that make any sense at all? Rather, to use a more succinct example, in Wicked Saints I give you two very defined magic systems. Ruthless Gods is about shattering that notion completely.

*combusts with excitement*

Well, there you have it, folks! Wishing Emily and everyone else all the best in the midst of this pandemic. 🙂

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