A remarkable and imaginative fantasy debut! The Gutter Prayer combines extraordinary world building and epic characters with thrilling action. Add to that a plot that will keep you guessing who will survive and you’ve got a series everyone will be talking about.
“The city has always been. The city must finally end.
When three thieves – an orphan, a ghoul, and a cursed man – are betrayed by the master of the thieves guild, their quest for revenge uncovers dark truths about their city and exposes a dangerous conspiracy, the seeds of which were sown long before they were born.
Cari is a drifter whose past and future are darker than she can know.
Rat is a Ghoul, whose people haunt the city’s underworld.
Spar is a Stone Man, subject to a terrible disease that is slowly petrifying his flesh.
Chance has brought them together, but their friendship could be all that stands in the way of total armageddon.” – Goodreads blurb
Let me start by saying Gareth Hanrahan has created an amazing world in this new series and it’s the world building where the book really shines in my opinion. The Gutter Prayer takes place in an industrialized setting replete with gods and demons and saints and the use of alchemy. While the majority of the story occurs within the city of Guerdon there are multiple references to the wider world and the occasional foray into it for broader perspective. This is a setting where the gods are active participants in history and where their current conflicts spill over into the realms of their followers in the godswar. They do this through their common followers in general and specifically through their saints, men and women who have been chosen by the gods and granted extraordinary powers and abilities to advance the cause of their deity.
In centuries past, devotees of the Kept Gods swept into Guerdon and banished the then ruling Black Iron Gods. It is the Keepers of the Kept Gods who control religion in Guerdon. Another major power in the city is the Alchemist Guild, a group which uses alchemical magic to power industry, create weapons, and animate fearsome creatures like the Tallowmen (more on them below). Then there’s the thieves guild known as the Brotherhood. These three groups all vie for power and influence in the city.
But the coolest feature of the book is the various non-human creatures who inhabit Guerdon. This is where some the most imaginative elements of the story are to be found. Here’s an incomplete list of my favorites:
- Ghouls – short goblin-like creatures who live in labyrinthine tunnels under the city and who come above ground to interact with the world. Held in disdain by humans they feed on the dead and help keep some of the worst monsters from making their way to the surface.
- Stonemen – people who have contracted a disease which causes their bodies to harden into stone slowly over time. They become very strong and develop natural armor but at the expense of petrifying to death. Their only aid is alkahest, a chemical solution injected into their body which alleviates symptoms and slows but does not stop the spread of the disease.
- Crawling Ones – a mass of worm creatures that when gathered together take on human-like shapes. They think collectively and can speak and carry weapons. They are at odds with the ghouls and seek influence in Guerdon.
- Tallowmen – basically a mix of a human and a candle. Created by the Alchemists they are large waxworks created from people. They are fast, strong, and very difficult to kill. They serve as something like a second city watch under the command of the Alchemists.
The Gutter Prayer follows multiple points of view. The three primary POV characters are all thieves who get caught up in a conspiracy that will shake the foundations of the city and maybe even the world.
Cari is a woman without a family or a home. Drifting from one place to the next she’s found herself back in Guerdon after having spent years away. She takes on a job from the master of the Brotherhood along with Spar and Rat.
Spar is a stoneman, the son of the former master of the Brotherhood. He is always trying to live up to the example of his late father while also living with the knowledge he will eventually succumb to his disease.
Rat is a ghoul who likes to spend most of his time above ground. He struggles with wanting to live among humans and interact with them while avoiding the natural pull of underground inherent to being a ghoul.
These three primary characters form the basis around which the narrative revolves. Each has their own narrative arc and goals which shape events and generate conflict which must be resolved as part of the overall plot. What I really enjoyed was the fact that all three main characters are thieves. I
like LOVE characters who are rogues – Robin Hood, Han Solo, Loki, Jack Sparrow, the list goes on. I think it’s the fact that they embody chaos and work to undermine power structures that make them so compelling to read. But having three such characters…now that’s fun.
Other minor characters who also have POV chapters include Jere the thief taker, Aleena the Saint, and Eladora the university student. All three of these characters add depth and balance to the story. And interestingly it was Eladora who became one of my favorites of the book with some of the best character development.
Hanrahan’s writing style is gripping and dynamic. I never felt bored with the story. In fact it moved at a brisk pace which the alternating points of view helped with by providing shifts at just the right time and kept my interest in reading just one more chapter. The pacing is consistent from start to finish with a mix of back story, narrative development, and action throughout.
And when it comes to action Hanrahan keeps you entertained. These scenes are tightly written and compelling, and come with the added benefit of the wickedly cool addition of the Tallowmen, Stonemen, Ghouls, and Crawling Ones, all with their powerful characteristics and abilities that amp up the intensity and add to the danger. On top of that add the fact that Hanrahan isn’t afraid to off a character or two in the process and you find yourself never knowing if someone will survive to the end of the book or not.
One interesting technique Hanrahan took a risk on was writing the prologue in the second person. This is a risky approach due to the awkwardness of this point of view but it totally pays off in the way it’s used, in part because it’s the prologue, and in part because of who the voice of the narrative is speaking to and about. The who isn’t readily apparent at first but it really works as a way to depict the action in the scene.
Central to the story are themes of friendship, loyalty, and power, all of which are intertwined. Each character deals with these three themes in their own way. How strong and true are bonds of friendship? To whom or what does each character give allegiance? Who will have or gain power and who will take it away? And to what extent do each of these themes conflict with or enhance the other within the arc of the character? Each theme builds bonds and creates conflict for the characters as the story progresses but the final outcome is never certain.
The one area I found fault with The Gutter Prayer (and where it lost some points in my rating) was in the editing. There were numerous misspellings or word omissions and instances where names of one character were mixed up with that of another. This didn’t happen all the time but it was enough that I took note and it would jar me out of the read when it did. There was also an instance where a key event in the story arc of one character was attributed to another (which made all kinds of sense) and was referred back to numerous times as part of why the first character should take it as motivation, however I couldn’t find anything in the text to show that it happened that way. It was like Hanrahan meant to add it, or that detail got cut somewhere by accident. All of this almost caused me to dock another half point from my rating.
In the end though it was the story and the magnificent world building which kept me hooked and helped me look past the few issues I found. The Gutter Prayer is exciting, imaginative and original, and has me eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.
4 of 5 Stars
Author: Gareth Hanrahan
Series: The Black Iron Legacy
Publication Date: January 17, 2019