The Gutter Prayer (The Black Iron Legacy #1) by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

The Gutter Prayer is a book that is packed with originality and heart and hits the right notes, I think, to keep both fans of epic and grimdark fantasy happy.  In fact I think this manages to strike a really good balance of creative fantasy and realistic adventure. Hanrahan manages to create a world that springs to life vividly.  A city made up of many components  from a seedy underworld riddled with back streets and alleys, a university district and on top of that – or should I say below –  a warren of tunnels that lies beneath the streets where a population of ghouls live.  This is a world rife with Godswar where the city of Guerdon provides a haven, their bloodthirsty gods long since having been defeated.  Trouble is brewing though and starting with a failed robbery that ends in disaster it soon becomes apparent that Guerdon is facing a terrible threat.  I really enjoyed The Gutter Prayer, it’s wonderfully creative and with it’s criminal Brotherhood and Cityscape of bell towers it brought to mind a strange marriage between the Gentleman Bastards and Assassins Creed and I can happily say its a winning combination.

At the start of the story we make the acquaintance of the most unlikely trio as they attempt a robbery that goes horribly wrong – they’ve been sent to the House of Law to retrieve documents but it seems that this is a ruse for a much bigger plan and in fact the three have been deemed expendable.  Unexpectedly, the three survive but not without consequences.  Cari, a runaway, hiding from her family name and shame finds that something has been awakened within her following her near death experience.  Spar, a young man infected with a disease that slowly turns his flesh to stone, is taken by a bounty hunter and held captive and Rat, a ghoul (more of that in a moment), is forced to run and seek safety in the underground tunnels when one of the City’s Tallowmen gives chase.  The three become separated at this point and it takes some time before they find out each other’s fate or for that matter are reunited.

I hate to be just another voice in the chorus but it’s inevitable and I’m going to have to agree with the majority opinion here that the world building is just excellent.  What I think is really exemplary is not just the creativity and uniqueness of Guerdon but the way that Hanrahan writes it so that it feels like part of the plot.  You discover things quite naturally as the story progresses and yet in spite of this subtlety this is a place that feels fully fleshed out and immersive.  I loved the place, it’s history and its inhabitants.  Beneath the City are the ghouls, they live in a strange sort of harmony with the residents above ground and their Elders protect underground gates from unwanted intruders.  They have an unusual system of feeding that might curl your toes a little.  Then there are the Tallowmen, law enforcers created by alchemy.  In a strange twist of irony these creations are rendered down criminals, recreated into a waxy type golem lit and powered by internal wicks.  They’re fast and ruthless – their motto could be ‘stab first, ask questions later’.  On the horror end are the Crawling Ones.  These are quite literally figures made up of thousands of wriggling worms that have feasted on the dead retaining their memories in a hive style collective.  They gather into human like form and use porcelain masks to complete the illusion.  They’re a perfectly hideous creation that really do make your skin crawl.  Finally, the Ravellers – scary monsters indeed.  If you see them, run – although with their strange method of killing you might not recognise the threat until it’s too late.

You may notice that I’m being evasive.  I don’t want to give away spoilers and I decided before writing this review to stay away from the plot altogether.  I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked this up – I can’t lie, I loved the cover and just wanted the book – there it is in all it’s fickle honesty.  It’s not a ploy that always works but on this occasion what lies beneath that beautiful artwork is equally attention stealing.

In terms of the characters.  Well, I’ve outlined the main three povs above but on this occasion I think I found myself liking some of the other characters even more – although I confess a soft spot for Spar (no pun intended).  We have Professor Ongent and his son who seem to be working towards their own agenda, the professor gives off that scatty, friendly old guy persona which is in complete contrast to his brooding, emo/assassin/OCD son.  We have a saint called Aleena – I loved her character.  I think whenever she entered a scene I almost took a welcome gulp of oxygen, like I’d been holding my breath and she felt like the saviour of the moment rushing in with her flaming sword and sarcasm, plus she just made me smile.  A word of warning – Hanrahan is a little bit savage with his characters so bear that in mind before you make really strong attachments.

I was very impressed with the writing and the imagery created in the mind’s eye whilst reading.  There’s a simplicity to the style but at the same time a sleight of hand that makes the scene setting remarkably clear.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, nothing major to report.  I would say that this took me a while to complete and I’m not altogether sure why.  I think the world here is a bit crazy but the uniqueness it brings to the plate does require concentration – you really can’t just power through this one, in my opinion anyhow, it needs to be read and savoured in order to fully understand things.  The plot felt a little bit convoluted at first, although on reflection I’m not sure that first impression really stands, and in fact I found myself taking maybe a quarter of the book to be fully on board – but, believe me when I say it’s worth the time spent.  Again, the conclusion – I had to go back and read it again and I don’t think a third reading could hurt any.  Maybe a bit rushed in what actually took place but I loved the twist that the ending revealed and it makes me hanker after the next book all the more.

Overall this is an incredibly impressive debut and one that makes me excited to think of what’s yet to come.  Do yourself a favour and read the Gutter Prayer.  That is all.  Go.  Read.  Enjoy.  Simples.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.



24 Responses to “The Gutter Prayer (The Black Iron Legacy #1) by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan”

  1. alwaystrustinbooks

    Great review Lynn! I have this coming up on my TBR. Have you read Master Of Sorrows yet?

  2. Tammy

    Agreed, such an amazing debut! It’s going to be hard for him to top this, but I’m curious to read the next book😁

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Team Spar here as well! He gained a place in my heart in no time at all.
    And Aleena… ah, she cusses so well, doesn’t she? 🙂
    Great review, thanks for sharing!

  4. waytoofantasy

    So glad to read your opinion on this one, Lynn! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Definitely one that is going on my list. 😀

  5. sjhigbee

    I love this review, Lynn. Sounds like a book to go onto my TBR list…

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s definitely receiving a lot of love and quite justifiably I think.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        I see nothing but praise for it wherever I go… Glad it is such a gripping read:))

  6. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Glad you enjoyed this one too! I really felt like the beginning was weaker than the rest of the book, but overall a really great book

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, funnily enough I did have a few issues and yet I found myself still really liking it – I think the beginning was slow somehow – I’m not really sure why because there was plenty going on, maybe because there was such a lot of originality involved so more careful reading was needed to start with?
      Lynn 😀

  7. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    This book has been garnering generally positive reviews from everywhere, and they’re very much deserved. Though I have to agree with you, the main POVs were okay, but I found myself liking a few of the supporting characters a lot more, like Aleena and Eladora. And Jere. Oh, Jere.

  8. Carmen

    It seems your followers are in agreement with you about this one. It sounded a bit complicated, tbh. Good to know it was an impressive debut and you were dazzled.

    • @lynnsbooks

      A very impressive debut and I can’t wait to see what the author comes up with next.
      Lynn 😀

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