Ruthless Gods: Something Dark and Holy, Book 2

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
Ruthless Gods: Something Dark and Holy, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Thrilling, chilling sequel in Slavic gothic fantasy trilogy.

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Fantasy meant to entertain.

Positive Messages

Do the right thing. Hold on to your humanity despite forces that seek to control and corrupt. Be loyal -- to self, friends, family. But, as in Book 1, these messages are muddied as characters work at cross purposes and seek to deceive and manipulate each other.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nadya, forsaken by her gods, is more assertive and self-directed than in Book 1. Serefin, now king, tries to save his people, but voices only he can hear drive him toward madness. Parijahan and Rashid have more prominent roles in this book; they're loyal friends, and as the only characters of color in this story, they're well-developed and critical to the plot. Gay and bisexual characters are included, but not the focus, of the story.


Set in a forest full of menacing creatures and populated by war-worn young adults and terrifying monsters, this book has all the violence from Book 1, with a touch more blood-soaked gore and creepy vibes. Characters use daggers, crossbows, blood magic, and swords to injure and kill. A boy turned into a monster kisses a girl and then pierces her torso in rage with his iron claws. She nearly dies of blood loss but is saved by magic.


Several passionate kisses, some between an opposite-gender couple, some between a same-gender couple.


Generally mild. Spare use of "s--t" and "f--k."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Serefin gets drunk and refers to being drunk in the past to escape the pressures of being a prince, then a king, as well as the voices in his head.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ruthless Gods is the second book in Emily A. Duncan's Something Dark and Holy trilogy. After the dramatic end to Wicked Saints, uneasy allies Nadya, Serefin, and Malachiasz leave Tranavia with their friends for the forests of Kalyazin, where they unwittingly become pawns in a dangerous battle between forces more ancient than the gods they do and don't believe in. There are positive messages about loyalty and doing what's best for the majority, but characters are flawed and hurt others, though they are doing their best to survive an increasingly complicated and chaotic journey. Bloody scenes of violence involve blood magic, daggers, swords, and crossbows. A primary character nearly dies after being attacked by a monster, and an important minor character is killed. Romance doesn't extend beyond a few steamy kisses, and language is mild with just a few uses of "s--t" and "f--k."

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byLlamaLovingReader June 21, 2020

Fine for any mature tween

I’m 13 and a half and I read this book when it first came out in April. It is really not any more violent than Wicked Saints, and has no sexual content and bare... Continue reading

What's the story?

When RUTHLESS GODS opens, Nadya has been forsaken by her gods, Malachiasz has betrayed Nadya and abandoned his humanity, while Serefin is haunted by voices seeking to control him. Cleric, monster, and king head deep into a Kalyazin forest full of ancient creatures, hidden menace, and mysterious temples as they continue their quest to end the war. Each comes to believe that killing one of the others is the only way to bring peace, which necessarily complicates their friendships and alliance. The voices drive Serefin toward madness, but he finds some solace in a new romantic interest, while Nadya and Malachiasz continue their doomed but steamy romance. The explosive ending answers some questions and opens up many more to scrutiny; perfect fodder for the final book in the trilogy.

Is it any good?

Ominous yet beautiful and populated by ever more absorbing characters, this second volume offers an increasingly interesting world to inhabit. Whether readers come to Ruthless Gods for the romance, the gothic world, or the immersive fantasy, they're sure to find all that and more in this well-executed follow-up to Wicked Saints. The world-building gets fleshed out, especially its underlying Slavic-inspired mythology, which is complex but rarely confusing. In the morally confounding mess their lives have become, Nadya, Malachiasz, and Serefin, as well as their stalwart friends Parijahan, Rashid, Ostiya, and Kacper, are all trying to understand who they are and how to make good decisions -- concerns that will feel familiar to many teen readers. We get to know all these characters more deeply as the story is told from their alternating perspectives.

There are some blips with repeated words or over-the-top language, but these are easy to forget amid the witty dialogue, compelling characters, and high-stakes action. With an explosive ending that raises more questions than it answers, fans will surely flock to the final book in the series.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the morally complicated choices the characters face in Ruthless Gods. Can a person be both good and evil? How might Nadya, Malachiasz, and Serefin answer this question?

  • Did you feel the violence in Book 2 was more or less intense? What affect does all the blood and gore have on you as a reader?

  • Talk about the two main romantic subplots. What was surprising, exciting, or complicated about them? How could you support a friend in a toxic relationship?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and romance

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