Review: The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan
Series: The Black Iron Legacy #1
Published by Orbit on January 17, 2019
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
The Gutter Prayer is an imaginative fantasy with unique creatures and magic. It’s told from three perspectives, a set of thieves , each quite different and enjoyable for their own reasons. When things go wrong in their latest heist, a bigger picture about the threats the city is facing is realized. This trio of misfit thieves find themselves in a position at the center of it all. There is plenty of excitement and action.
I like the group of three this story is told from. There is Cari, who we don’t initially know a lot about, just that she came to the city with nothing, and Rat took pity on her and brought her in to the fold, and set her up with a place to stay. Rat is a young ghoul. His perspective can be entertaining with his dry observations. And then there is Spar, who is probably one of the most honorable thieves around and has a knack for inspiring people. But that only goes so far now that he is a Stone Man.
Now when i mentioned the imaginative qualities of this book, some of that comes from the different types of residents in the city as well as the types of monsters it faces. Spar is a Stone Man, which is someone suffering from a very contagious disease that slowly turns the body to stone. It’s kind of like a more rock solid version of leprosy. No one wants to touch a stone man for fear of contracting the awful disease (a very real possibility). They are quite easy to spot and so easy to shun. Interestingly a side effect of the disease is they gain inhuman strength before they are completely debilitated. This means they are desirable workers for and are used for manual labor.
Tallowmen are this sort of Frankenstein-ish wax monster police that are inhumanly fast and vicious and show no mercy. Then there are ghouls, who have their own underground system of tunnels and ravellers, who are just frightening and more. Definitely a good amount of creativity and imagination went into the world building.
While there is a lot to enjoy in the book, I do worry that the early flood of very high reviews might do the book a bit of a disservice by setting expectations a bit too high. I don’t think you should enter this one with expectations of a perfect read. It is a debut, and a good one at that, but there were some areas I felt were a little problematic, starting with the very first chapter. It is written in second person, so is full of “you” and “your”, which I find is just awkward as a reader. I am not there, I don’t know these things or see these things, stop saying “you”. Personally, I found it harder to immerse myself in the book because of it. Then to take it just a stretch further, it also appears to be the perspective of a building. As second person. So I got to add the “I am not a building, I don’t have a tower, or a staircase or whatever” to the mix. I felt so distracted by these stylistic/editorial decisions that it really made it hard for me to get into the actual story. I think if the intent was to give “life” to the building, there could have been another, less distracting and puzzling, way to achieve that. Personally, I think second person rarely, if ever, works in fiction and this was definitely not an exception to that. There was another early section of the book that was from the perspective of a Tallowman, which honestly, didn’t read as well as the other perspectives (that could have provided the same information).
When the perspective was from any of the three main characters, it typically was good, so I am not entirely sure why there was this sort of experimentation (that is what these sections felt like to me). There were also some sections that felt a little info-dumpy to me, where I wanted to get back to the characters and the current action instead of reading whatever world details were being laid out. Impatience to get back to the action is always a pro and a con to me. It means I am fully invested in the story and am anxious for progression, but it also means that I’ve lost some of the momentum I was enjoying and feel like my reading experience is not as good as it could have been.
I also have to confess, I felt like the ending could have been stronger and more impactful, but instead there were so many things that happened so quickly I think I just think there was not enough page space devoted to it to give readers time to really appreciate it. Especially in relation to what happens to each of the characters. There is an epilogue that gives the reader a bit more detail and time for things to sink in, but again, there’s not much page space devoted to it, and I found it hard to gather the emotion I felt it probably deserved, which was surprising.
So, while there were aspects and sections of this book that may not have worked as well for me as the book overall did, I do think this is a great start to a new series and look forward to the next one. I also feel like the few things that I saw as weaknesses in this book are things that can easily be (and typically are) ironed out in a book 2.