I received an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
544 pages| Orbit| Fantasy/ Dark Fantasy/ Speculative Fiction
Release date: January 17th 2019.
The digest: I cannot recommend this book highly enough to fantasy lovers. It’s an immersive, highly detailed, excellent story with almost everything you could want. It is deeply thought-provoking, it is brutal, it is violent, and it is bloody good.
Absolutely no surprises here if you follow me on Twitter, I was completely enthralled in The Gutter Prayer and the pages just flew by.
From the book’s Goodreads page:
“A group of three young thieves are pulled into a centuries old magical war between ancient beings, mages, and humanity in this wildly original debut epic fantasy.
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.”
No book, however, is flawless so look below if you want to know exactly what I did and did not enjoy about The Gutter Prayer. I’ll get the negatives out of the way first.
What didn’t I like?
- Very minor point no. 1: the vast majority of the novel is so polished that when on the rare occasion that there is a grammatical issue/repetition of an unusual word, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
- Very minor point no. 2: I’m not a fan of sex scenes in most books, especially when they are a bit insta-lovey or cringe-worthy, and this is exactly what happens here. There is some explanation (much) after the fact but I just wasn’t too keen. I must stress that this is a personal preference so I haven’t deducted any points for this.
- The pacing of the plot is insanely good in my opinion… right up until the last three chapters, which just feel massively too rushed. Part of me feels like this must have been a stylistic choice on the part of Hanrahan, but even if so, I didn’t like it. With 500+ pages all contributing to such a climactic ending, it’s a shame to see the finale come and go so swiftly.
- Character deaths (not really a spoiler, I can’t remember the last fantasy book I read without someone dying) don’t seem to leave a terribly lasting effect. While this again could be a style choice, it didn’t quite sit right with me. I want more than just one saying ‘and then character XXX died’, I want to experience the loss as characters feel it.
- The plot is one of the most interesting and engaging that I have read… ever. BUT I saw a few things coming from the off and I don’t know if that speaks to the predictability of the story or the fact that I spend too much time in the genre. Either way, I wasn’t particularly disappointed so again, I have deducted no points for this.
What did I like?
- The Gutter Prayer has one of the most interesting and entertaining stories I have seen in quite some time. At no point was I bored or confused – I just sat there enthralled as different aspects of the storyworld’s reality unfolded, waiting with bated breath for what would come next. Hanrahan has struck gold with his fantasy debut. The plot follows a handful of characters as they try to find out exactly what is going on in Guerdon, with their self-interested motivations eventually growing to be a much wider concern for their fellow citizens. There are fights between supernatural entities, sorcerers of a variety of species, literal gods and extremist cults, along with an alchemist guild which is getting a bit too big for its boots.
- The characters are incredibly well developed, with each of the three main thieves we start off with being explored in detail by the end of the novel. I can genuinely empathise with the main trio as well as a couple of the side characters on occasion, with is something I find to be rare in fantasy books, let alone debut novels. We learn what makes them tick, what they are afraid of, and what their dreams are. I haven’t seen many examples of better character development than what we are presented with here.
- This, of course, is excepted by the above remark about character deaths, where in some instances I struggle to actually feel their grief. I understand that they must be hurting from the loss, but I don’t actually feel it.
- There are multiple kickass female protagonists. They aren’t traditionally ‘girly girls’, they aren’t masculine men who happen to be female, and they aren’t about to be pushed about by anybody. It’s refreshing to see a male author create a believable female lead character, and even more exciting to see consistently high-quality females characters throughout the novel.
- The worldbuilding is, quite frankly, amazing. Hanrahan seems to have thought of everything, be it supplying weapons to the warring neighbours, salvaging goods to be re-used, disease, market workers, the City Watch etc. But the main show here really is the combination of Guerdon’s history and the fact that gods are very much alive and kicking, selecting human vessels to act as Saints or divine warriors. Spoiler: highlight the text after the colon to see my favourite aspect here: This aspect of the worldbuilding was my favourite, as we see how different gods work with their worshippers differently, and see what powers they bestow upon their saints. Do they even remain human? Do they have to adhere to the normal physical laws of reality? I honestly can’t explain how well planned out and effective this aspect of the storytelling was. I would happily read a book just about the gods in all honesty.
- In keeping with the worldbuilding, there is a solid mixture of humans and non-humans alike. In The Gutter Prayer, we learn which factions tolerate each other and why, as well as some of the almost forgotten histories as to why they exist in the first place. This information is revealed piece by piece, and at no point did I feel overwhelmed.
- The action scenes are well-written, and the different abilities of different characters/species is never lost.
- Chapters focus on a rotation of characters, allowing us to believe in their autonomy when we aren’t with them. We can believe that ghouls spend their time in subterranean levels of Guerdon, that the humans are trying to avoid the Stone Men, and indeed that the Stone Men themselves suffer in physical agony and mental anguish. The autonomy of the citizens of the city supports the development of the immersion of the novel and I am in awe that Hanrahan’s debut fantasy novel does this so well.
- The pacing is almost perfect. Almost. Barring the exception discussed above, I have got to say that The Gutter Prayer is one of the most well-balanced narratives in the genre I have ever read. There are no infodumps at all, with information either being revealed as the characters themselves come across the information in real time, or indeed through discussion regarding many of the wider issues contemplated here.
- The pacing is helped in no small part by the aforementioned rotation of characters. By spending a bit of time with a handful of characters we are able to see the reaction to events as they unfold not only in one character’s little bubble, but the full effects for the city of Guerdon.
- The Gutter Prayer is also (perhaps surprisingly) eloquent in its exploration of wider themes. Politics and economics feature (though they are by no means the central focus), as do regressive or progressive societies, and larger moral questions of protection of the state versus becoming Big Brother. By no means is this novel a sophisticated thesis on the human condition, but it is more nuanced and engaged with big questions than most other fantasy novels.
- That last page… please mean what I think it means for the next book in The Black Iron legacy book.
4.75/5 (rounded to 5/5 where required). As much as I enjoyed reading The Gutter Prayer, I can’t justify giving it a full 5/5 for the reasons mentioned in the first section of this review. I urge you to add this to your TBR and preferably get around to it ASAP so you can take part in the current hype – I can’t really imagine anyone not enjoying this. It’s fun, thought-provoking, and definitely one that will not be forgotten.