The Shadow Saint (The Black Iron Legacy #2) by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

ShadowSaintThe Shadow Saint is a solid instalment in the Black Iron Legacy series.  No suffering from the dreaded ‘middle book syndrome’ to be found amongst these pages, and although this was a read that took a little time to fully grab my attention it really is another very impressive book.

Firstly, I would point out that as this is a review for the second book in a series you might want to be aware that potential spoilers may be lurking, I do try to avoid these but sometimes they’re determined to break out regardless of my intentions.  Also, without doubt, if you’re planning on picking up Shadow Saint you need to have read Gutter Prayer first.  This book is quite different in a couple of ways from the first book.  The main characters are mostly new although some of the previous cast do make appearances, and although there was plenty of world building in the first book, given the ending, it feels like we’re learning about the place all over again.  Conversely, given those two elements, you would think you’d be able to pick this one up as a standalone but I would strongly advise against doing so.

What both books have in common is a need to read at a pace that allows thought and reflection.  There is no blasting through these pages just as there wasn’t with the first book.  This is, dare I say, a convoluted read.  Guerdon is in the throes of political upheaval and there is much posturing and party political hobnobbing not to mention the potential threat of war increases the tension dramatically.  In fairness I wasn’t really a fan of all the campaigning and matters of state and this aspect of the story, coupled with the new characters slowed me down quite a bit at first until I became more involved in the story and started to understand what was really happening.

Similar to my review of Gutter Prayer, I’m not going to elaborate on the plot.  There will be plenty of other descriptions out there not to mention the cover blurb and given the covert nature of a lot of the story I’d sooner not go there.

In terms of the characters this time we have two new faces, a spy with many identifies and a Haith noble who seems to be somewhat disgraced in the eyes of his family.  We also follow Eladora who appeared in the first book and is Cari’s cousin.  All of them are easy to read about and feel fully fleshed out but I admit it took me a while to really get on board with them and that’s probably my own fault.  I think I naturally assumed, or wanted, more of the old faces from The Gutter Prayer and so these changes at first made me feel a little resentful and I had to get over that before I could really start to care about the fates of any of them. Cari was my favourite and that’s probably because I enjoyed where her story led to in more ways than the other two.

Once again the writing is just excellent and the imagination is, frankly, superb.  I really enjoyed the elements of the story surrounding Cari and the creative ways that she managed to elude capture and traverse the city.  It’s really difficult to say anything more about that aspect because it would involve spoilers but I really loved it whenever she made an appearance.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, as already mentioned, this certainly isn’t a fast paced read.  There are political machinations and lots of double dealing and back stabbing and, as with any story with more twists and turns than a busted corkscrew, it can sometimes feel like walking up a sand dune or trying to run in water but, at the same time, I have to say, stick with it.  I think my own impatience got the better of me at times but that’s an ‘it’s me not you’ thing really.  Sometimes you just need to slow down and enjoy the book, stop worrying about deadlines and the like and let yourself become fully immersed.  It may have taken me a while but I eventually got there.

In conclusion, I probably didn’t love Shadow Saint as much as Gutter Prayer but it was still, without doubt, a very good read with some fantastic elements that I absolutely loved.  I wasn’t as keen on the politics of the piece but the dark undertones, the tension and the world building were really good.

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

Rating 4 of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

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.