This book was sent to me by Orbit in exchange for an honest review.
17.01.19 / Orbit / Fantasy / Paperback / 400pp / 978-0356511528
Target Audience: Readers who like dark and complex fantasy writing and a whole cast of interesting and conflicted individuals to root for.
About The Gutter Prayer
The city of Guerdon stands eternal. A refuge from the war that rages beyond its borders. But in the ancient tunnels deep beneath its streets, a malevolent power has begun to stir.
The fate of the city rests in the hands of three thieves. They alone stand against the coming darkness. As conspiracies unfold and secrets are revealed, their friendship will be tested to the limit. If they fail, all will be lost and the streets of Guerdon will run with blood.
SET IN A WORLD OF DARK GODS AND DANGEROUS MAGIC, THE GUTTER PRAYER IS AN EPIC TALE OF SORCERERS AND THIEVES, TREACHERY AND REVENGE, FROM A REMARKABLE NEW VOICE IN FANTASY.
Gareth Hanrahan’s The Gutter Prayer is a monumental blast of dark fantasy, both stunning and savage in nature, that reveals a world of powerful gods, dedicated saints, cunning humans, war, treachery, loyalty and impossible entities. Gareth Hanrahan is an absolute natural and the depth, imagination, richness and brutality of his fantasy writing makes this a stand-out read of 2019. This is book one of the Black Iron Gods series and it was a cracking introduction into, what I expect to be, an enormously satisfying collection of books at the very least.
Carillion Thay has returned to Guerden. A sprawling city that has become a haven for those who are looking for refuge from the Godswar that rages beyond its borders. Guarded by gods, churches, soldiers and the secretive, innovative Alchemist Guild that create unthinkable entities and weapons to protect its inhabitants and fend off the ever-nearing threat of assault. Falling into trouble with the Thieves Guild and it’s leader Heinreil, Carillion (Cari) has to work off a debt to the brotherhood. Finding friends in the hulking Stone man Spar and the young ghoul Rat, Cari is put to task by the brotherhood to steal an item from the city’s Tower Of Law.
During their mission, the tower gets levelled by an alchemical bomb, leaving the group scattered, injured and imprisoned. As a result the explosion and the tower collapsing on her, narrowly escaping death, Cari has begun to have strong visions of the city, seeing its inhabitants and all their secrets. When Cari is bailed out to Professor Ongent (who has knowledge of Cari’s family), she begins to learn what the episodes truly are and how she is connected to the previous rulers of Guerden, The Black Iron Gods. This connection makes her a wanted woman by man and creature alike. With the help of Spar, Rat and others within the city, Cari has to try to stop a plot, long in the making, that will bring the Godswar to their door and the city to its knees.
There is an absolute ton of things to love about this book. Within is an outstanding roster of characters with huge developments across the board. Cari is an impressive lead that has no end of chaos and conflict within her journey to sainthood. She and her cousin Eladora are the centre of the plot and they partake in one hell of a ride. I didn’t know what Cali is capable of (neither did she) and I marvelled at her attempt to harness some pretty ancient and kickass powers.
Spar is another fantastic and imaginative character. A young man infected with the Stone Plague, a crippling disease that calcifies living flesh into a stone prison where the only outcome is death. He can never stop moving for fear of progressing his curse further. Spar is the son of Idge, the previous leader of the Brotherhood of Thieves. He has a lot to live up to and very little time to accomplish it. Spar was a phenomenal character and I cheered him on every agonising step of the way.
Rat is a young ghoul who is trapped between his life above ground and his fate in the subterranean city underneath Guerden that his race occupies. Rat likes Cari and Spar, he wants to enjoy the human world for as long as he can, but with the everything collapsing around him, his true nature is quickly catching up to him. Rat’s plot actually turned my stomach and it was hard to digest, not unlike Rat’s own food source. There is also Jere, a thief-taker who is investigating Heinreil, who is on a path of discovering to the real plan to take over Guerden.
There is an exceptional plot that was intricate, multi-dimensional and complex with all the depth and bite you would expect from a dark fantasy novel. I appreciate a story with weight behind it and it did feel like every characters actions had an effect on the outcome. I thought the premise and foundations for this story were inspired and the execution of it was intriguing, diverse and fierce at times. I don’t want to divulge any key details of the how and why, that is for you to discover all on your own. The setting of Guerden is as unsettling as it is dangerous and beautiful. It is the perfect place to watch this plot unfold and with an additional focus on architecture makes Guerden a great place to explore along all the players in this tale.
Plus we get a great balance between the theological and magical aspects and themes. Gods with their own influences and styles. Sorcery and dark magic. Creatures that stalk and destroy. Alchemical miracles that are bad news for the enemy, including knife smoke, melting rain and fire that burns forever. There are many angles here in terms of themes. Theological, architectural, political, sociological, spiritual and criminal themes sit amongst the surreal, intense and clever tones and atmospheres.
Gareth Hanrahan’s fantasy writing is sublime and so freaking cool. Just thinking about all the awesome imagery and alternative characters tucked away in these pages makes me want to go back and read it again. GH’s mind is ingenious and I couldn’t get enough. From all the main characters and to the alchemical adversaries like The Fever Knight or the Tallowmen, fearsome wax soldiers that stalk the streets looking for trouble. And the vast varieties of gods and saints with their all powerful abilities. Aleena is probably my favourite character, reminding me of Brienne Of Tarth (Game of Thrones) but with the essence of a god flowing through her. That is just a handful of mind blowing aspects that await those who read this book. This is only part one of series that is bigger and bolder than I have ever seen, hopefully evolving in more mysterious and captivating ways.
And for me this was an issue.
The pacing and flow of the narrative was, for want of a better word, difficult. The timelines jumped jaggedly between each of the characters with very little notice or build up. There were usually only a several pages per character (which in some instances was just enough to get my bearings) before another took their place, leaving unfinished business that wasn’t always picked up later. It was strange because when The Gutter Prayer sinks in, it really hits the spot for me as a reader but unless you have a clear head and a whole lot of time to slowly digest the narrative, you won’t get as much out if it as you may like. I am not saying this book is overpopulated by characters because I enjoyed my time with them all, but, in my opinion, it doesn’t flow as well as it should.
Saying all of that… I have to say, judging on how fully realised this novel actually is from the first page, it feels like Hanrahan is a pro who has been doing this for decades. It is just the accessibility of the writing that, in my opinion, lacks finesse and therefore some of GH’s more intriguing moments get lost in the flurry. This can be 100% immersive fiction, you can sink into The Gutter Prayer and run around the streets of Guerdon with Cali, Spar, Rat and Jere, facing each challenge and twist right by their side. I don’t want to put off potential readers but this isn’t a casual effort. There is a lot of fun, shocks and awe to be had here but it needs time and concentration. But you put the time in and you will be rewarded.
The Gutter Prayer will sit with me for a long time for all the right reasons. As a debut novel, I am actually stunned by how polished this book is. Gareth Hanrahan is one to watch. He has gotten solid endorsements from some fantastic writers including Nicholas Eames and Anna Smith Spark. He has mine too.
About Gareth Hanrahan
Gareth Hanrahan’s three-month break from computer programming to concentrate on writing has now lasted fifteen years and counting. He’s written more gaming books than he can readily recall, by virtue of the alchemical transmutation of tea and guilt into words. He lives in Ireland with his wife and twin sons. Follow him on Twitter at @mytholder.