This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
09.01.20 / Fantasy / Orbit / Paperback / 592pp / 978-0356511535
Target Audience: Fantasy readers who love immersive fiction with depth, detail, a ton of amazingly creative concepts, a compelling setting and a great cast of characters.
About The Shadow Saint
With his acclaimed debut, The Gutter Prayer, Gareth Hanrahan introduced a world of sorcerers and thieves, broken gods and dangerous magic. Now this epic tale continues in The Shadow Saint, the gripping second novel in the Black Iron Legacy.
As the Godswar draws ever closer and tensions within the city escalate, how long will the people of Guerdon be able to keep their enemies at bay?
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‘The city changes. The city endures’ p409 The Shadow Saint
Gareth Hanrahan’s first instalment of his Black Iron Legacy series, The Gutter Prayer, astounded me with gritty streets filled with alchemical horrors, denied or suppressed gods bursting into existence and a tight nit band of memorable characters that fought to save the city against men, creatures and deities unleashing hell. Hanrahan’s imagination and talent for fantasy writing is outstanding and every page is packed with drama, action and unforgettable imagery.
Gareth Hanrahan was just warming up it seems. What comes next is on a whole other scale of chaotic. The Gutter Prayer set the scene, The Shadow Saint blew that scene to pieces. I can’t imagine what is to come next but I am still trying to process everything I witnessed here.
The Shadow Saint is fantasy at its absolute best. Creative and immersive settings, interesting magic and power, a cast of fascinating characters all mixed with genuine passion. The stakes are more devastating than ever in the next volume of the Black Iron Legacy series. I was a little taken a back at the beginning as it introduces completely new individuals, nations and themes that are of stark contrast to The Gutter Prayer. I needn’t have worried as Hanrahan is a genius who quickly threads the new and old elements together in perfect harmony also weaving in some excellent ideas that built on certain characters that I both loved and disliked in the first novel. I was relieved to see Cari, Rat and Spar return in interesting new ways and now I have several new cast members to add to my favourites list. The centre piece of this novel is definitely its story and the rich, satisfying fantasy it explores and the nail-biting chaos of conflict that fills every page.
The Shadow Saint brings a full blown war of mad gods, powerful saints and unforgiving monsters to the gates of Guerdon. Guerdon is a city that has stood the test of time. It survived the crisis that saw the return of the Black Iron Gods. It has since been reinforced by the appearance of the New City, a miracle born from the body of a dying stone man, that supposedly hides Carillion Thay, the black iron saint. Because of the events of the crisis politicians want to secure the city’s future with machinery, contraptions and weapons that can defend it from divinity. There is even rumours on the streets of a bomb that is capable of wiping a god from existence hidden in the depths of the city.
Guerdon is a place of neutrality, of defiance. Gods hold no power over the people. Their own Kept gods are made powerless by the city’s strict rules against practicing faith. Though as fear of one god rises, faith in another rises too. Even keeper saints are beginning to appear in streets, harnessing the powers of gods trapped for centuries. Guerdon is the last stand against a pantheon of mad gods who thrive on wars, seas, the sky and fate itself. Its citizens and those it aligns itself with are the only hope to fight back. Can Guerdon withstand the full force of the godswar?
It is so great to be back with this series. There is a lot in The Shadow Saint that I thoroughly enjoyed and want to unpack in this review but I will try and keep it sweet (short went out the window a while back). There are three key areas that make The Black Iron Legacy series an absolute must read. The fantasy writing, the characters and the setting. These elements alone compelled me through this book with fascination, adrenaline spikes and even bursts of emotion along the way. The plot was focused and paced slowly to start with and then ramping up midway through to an epic finale. The Shadow Saint is a consistently awesome read that built on what The Gutter Prayer achieved but took it to new unbelievable heights.
A heads up first before I get to my thoughts. Gareth Hanrahan loves detail. He is a craftsman when it comes to world building. There is a lot to process in his books so go into it knowing it is not a casual effort. GH even takes a jab at himself for needing so much detail in the novel when a character remarks that the novel she is read is 50% prologue. I admit that it can be a bit much initially but when it all begins to melt together, it becomes so addictive. I love how the world works, the people who occupy it and what horrendous circumstances they face. Like I said, fantasy at its best.
The characters are better than ever in The Shadow Saint. Eladora Duttin is still recovering from the events of the crisis. Being used by the black iron saints has left her broken and vunerable yet she feels a new strength within. Eladora is helping Kelkin to try and win a general election that will see Guerdon harden its defences to prepare for the incoming war. Eladora must make alliances with everyone she can including the churches, the ghouls that live in the subterranean network under Guerdon, the embassies from other nations and even her cousin Carillion who haunts the New City and its inhabitants. Everyone has a stake in the survival of their city.
El faces conflict from every direction. Confronting her past, accepting her role in trying to prevent the war reaching her home and doing what is just, while trying staying alive, might just allow her to save the people of the city. If the gods don’t trap her in their plans first. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Eladora in the first novel but I really invested in her this time around. El’s is a story of both acceptance and defiance that drops her right in the middle of everything with almost nothing to keep her afloat but herself.
Terevant Erevesic has fought in the godswar once already and lost more than just men in the battlefield. A failed leader in the military and a black sheep in his noble family, Terevant has lived in the shadow of his brother his entire life. Honour is important to Terevant and he doesn’t want to be denied a chance to serve his house in death. House Erevesic is the most prominent and powerful in all of Haith. A nation that accepts life but honours death. A godless domain that builds its armies from the honoured dead that have their souls bound to their skeletons. The souls of those who pass on completely are held in the phylacteries (soul receptacles) of each house. House Erevesic has a sword that contains the ancestry of the family and the one who wields it can draw on their knowledge, strength and power.
Terevant has been given a second chance. He must go to Guerdon and deliver the Erevesic Sword to his brother who is to become the leader of their house. Haith want to combine forces with Guerden to improve their chances of protecting their way of life (or death). Terevant is given his duties but quickly becomes embroiled in a murder mystery that ends in betrayal, leaving him on the run from his own kind. I thought Terevant, and Haith in general, was such a cool addition to the story. All the explorations of the other nations definitely enriched the world that exists beyond the walls of Guerdon. The way Hanrahan strips down Terevant and rebuilds him multiple times throughout the novel makes it easy to root for him.
Finally there is the spy. A man with many faces who is smuggling a young boy into Guerdon. The boy is a saint of the Fate Spider. Saints are illegal in Guerden and any that are found are turned away or imprisoned outside of the city walls. The spy, living under the disguise of Alic, is plotting with the Ishmeric goddess of war, Pesh, to help bring down Guerdon from the inside. The spy has his own agendas too. As Alic he is to find evidence of a potential weapon hidden inside the city that could kill a god.
As he lives his cover and fulfills his mission the spy’s many faces begin to fight for control and he must accept them all to succeed. I also liked the addition of the spy. It is incredibly hard to tell what his true intentions are and it creates a unknown tension that underlays all of his interactions. The spy is everywhere and provides multiple views on the people and events that shake the foundations of the city. Each individual is crucial to the narrative and they each provide a story of loyalty, sacrifice and survival at all cost.
The return of the previous cast was a pleasant surprise too and the new dynamic between Cari and Spar (a connection like no other) as well as Lord Rat’s new presence leads me to my second and third favourite parts of the book. The fantasy writing and the setting GH has painstakingly moulded for this series. The city of Guerden is probably my favourite fantasy location of all time. Hanrahan’s thought process must be so intense but I am sincerely grateful for it. The world this story occupies is as frightening as it is seriously cool. We get to see a lot more of it here and it makes the Guerden seem smaller yet no less important.
The imagery that Hanrahan projects in this books is phenomenal. I don’t know what is more intense, the miracles of the gods, the saints who channel their power or the alchemical weapons created by the most nefarious minds. The Kraken god can turn water into liquid glass and the Kept gods can bring lightening down on their foes but the alchemists can turn smoke into knives and other weapons of unimaginable pain so it’s anyone’s fight really. There is wondrous danger around every corner in Guerdon. This show-stopping imagery is in every fibre of the story and it never stops getting more impressive all the way to the final pages.
The New City that appeared from Spar’s body at the end of the previous novel is something very special indeed, to me at least. A haven of living stone that shifts and changes as needed. These ideas are brilliantly executed and I haven’t even really begun to touch on how many great concepts there are in The Shadow Saint. Hanrahan has obviously poured his heart into this series, stressing every which way to make it a fully realised and immersive piece of fiction. His passion for magic, mythology, gods, science and monsters is exceptional and I never knew what the characters were going to face next. It is a lot to expect of a reader but the payoff is massive and even after almost 600 pages (tiny writing) of high intensity fantasy I was still left wanting more.
Gareth Hanrahan has garnered some fantastic praise from the fantasy community, readers and writers alike, that is much deserved. The Black Iron Legacy is not a series to dip into now and then, it is immersive and captivating. The Shadow Saint took the series in a completely different direction but I loved its new vision of Guerdon and the god infused armies that want to knock down its gates. Gareth Hanrahan is a fantasy author to invest your time in and watch him grow even further as a writer as he certainly has more surprises in store for us. The Shadow Saint is a huge step up from The Gutter Prayer, which is a stellar read by itself, so I have absolutely no idea where he might go next but I am waiting to find out.
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 three children. Follow him on Twitter at @mytholder.