Blessed Monsters: Something Dark and Holy, Book 3

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
Blessed Monsters: Something Dark and Holy, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Satisfying trilogy ender has monster romance, gory violence.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some Russian and Polish words are used without translation but can be figured out in context.

Positive Messages

You can't go back and change the past, undo mistakes, or unmake bad, hurtful decisions, but you can do better going forward. Work hard to deserve your friends: listen, be kind, help, take care. Sometimes, friends can be found among "enemies." Forgiveness isn't for the person who harmed you, it's so you can move toward healing from the hurt.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters — Nadya, Malachiasz, Serefin, and Parijahan — all grow and mature in this finale. They stop lying, manipulating, and betraying one another, and start trusting and helping one another. The Kalyazin and Tranavians are White, the Akolans Parijahan and Rashid are described as brown-skinned, and dark haired. Queer characters, women, and men are represented nonstereotypically (men cry, women lead armies, etc.).

Violence

As in the previous books, there's a lot of bloody violence: Characters use daggers, swords, magic, and arrows, as well as hand-to-hand fighting, and gods and monsters use claws and teeth to defend, injure, and kill. A monster god literally consumes people in bloody, haunting scenes.

Sex

Many passionate kisses and some shirtless groping among opposite-gender couples and same-gender couples. A few scenes imply that various couples in this book have sex, though the only act vaguely described involves a character who uses his hand or mouth under skirts to bring his love interest to orgasm. Contraception is discussed between two characters in one scene.

Language

Moderate swearing throughout including "f--k,"  "s--t," "ass," "damn," and "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Young adult characters drink wine and vodka several times, though not excessively. Serefin, who drank far too much in the previous books, has learned to drink moderately.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Blessed Monsters is the third and final book in Emily A. Duncan's Something Dark and Holy trilogy. After the betrayals and life-ending mistakes on the mountain at the end of Book 2, Ruthless Gods, the 100-year-long war between Kalyazin and Tranavia (fantasy analogues for pre-Industrial Russia and Poland) rages on, and Nadya, Serefin, Malachiasz, and their friends end up in Komyazalov, the capital city of Kalyazin. There, they plot to prevent the world from being devoured by newly awakened ancient, fallen gods and maybe end the war, too. Violence is, at times, bloody and intense. Human characters use daggers, swords, and magic, as well as hand-to-hand fighting, while gods in the form of monsters use hands, claws, and teeth to defend, injure, and brutally kill. Adult couples share passionate kisses, grope under skirts and without shirts; sex is largely implied, not described. The characters swear with moderate regularity, including "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "damn," and "hell." Characters drink wine and vodka several times, though not excessively. Publisher recommends this for age 13 and up, but given the level of violence, 15 is a more appropriate floor.

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What's the story?

The beginning of BLESSED MONSTERS follows main characters Nadya, Serefin, Malachiasz (back from the dead), and their friends as they make their way to Kalyamozov, the capital city of Kalyazin. There they're sheltered by military general and monster-hunter Katya, daughter to the Tsar, who they miraculously made their ally. They realize that what they wrought on the mountain were world-threatening mistakes: They killed a Kalyazi god, awakened old, fallen gods, who have little interest in protecting mortals, and freed a dangerous ancient chaos god Chyrnog, who wants to devour the world. Chyrnog claims Malachiasz, and through him, edges closer and closer to the power he needs to consume the world. Malachiasz must turn to Nadya, who stripped him of his blood magic, and his half-brother Serefin, who actually killed him on the mountain, because they're the only ones who have the kind of magic that might be able to stop Chyrnog. And also, Malachiasz is in love with Nadya, and Serefin is his half-brother, and he's got just enough humanity left in him to want those relationships. Given their dismal chances of success, the hurt they've caused one another, and the destruction and trauma of their long-fought war, they constantly question whether there's even a world worth saving. Will these unlikely friends find the hope and determination to believe in their cause long enough to fight for it?

Is it any good?

This bloody but ultimately redemptive finale has some problems, but it will deeply satisfy fans and readers of this dark fantasy trilogy. The most fulfilling aspect of Blessed Monsters is the author's skillful character and relationship development as she brings together fractured threads from the previous books. The characters, battle-weary and traumatized, finally open up to one another and realize the only chance they have to save the world is if they seek to understand their different perspectives and protect one another. Nothing magic happens -- they fall in tenuous love, argue and wound, make up and, at last, allow hope to take root. These memorable monster-god, old-god-made, gods-touched, magic-empowered friends are the best kind of heart-stealing characters.

The biggest problem of this book (and the series) is the pre-Industrial Russian and Polish-inspired setup. Some readers may be reminded of anti-Semitic-fueled pogroms and discrimination the Russian Empire enacted toward Jews after it claimed Poland in the late 1700s. The Tranavanian cult called the Vultures may also bring to mind an association with modern-day Neo-Nazi conspiracies about secret so-called "cabals" of Jewish people running shadow governments around the world. Duncan has publicly admitted she was aware of the implications, but thought she dealt with them sensitively, and now recognizes that she fell short. Regrettably, for some readers, the parallels cast a dark shadow over what is otherwise a deeply immersive, thoughtful, and compelling series ender.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the emotional growth the main characters experience in Blessed Monsters. How do each of them change over the course of the book? What events force them to see things from different perspectives?

  • How do you feel about Nadya and Malachiasz's love for each other in this book? How has it changed or shifted since the series began? What about the other romantic storylines? What, if anything, can be learned about power imbalances and power sharing in romantic relationships?

  • How does the violence in this final book compare with the violence in the previous volumes in this series? Did you find it be about as violent, or more or less intense? What purpose does the violence serve in this particular book?

Book details

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For kids who love fantasy

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