Hello Humans! The end of 2018 was a slower time for blogging but a great time for reading, I read a lot more adult fantasy then I did YA which was an exciting time as it is one of my goals to start reading more outside of YA fantasy in the next year or so. One of the adult fantasy books I read was The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan. I hadn’t read anything from this author before and I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect beyond the fact that it was fantasy and that it was about three thieves. I had a quick glance at the Goodreads page before I started reading and the general consensus was that it was a bit ‘mad’. So, with those things in mind, I set out to read The Gutter Prayer.
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.
I’m not sure if everyone would agree with me, but I would call this ‘setting driven fantasy’. What do I mean by that? I mean that I didn’t find myself connecting with the characters or learning too much about their lives and personalities, but I was utterly swept up by the setting and aspects of the world that Hanrahan creates in this book. I’ve picked out some of my favourite elements to talk about here.
The Tallowmen. If you’re a condemned criminal in this city, you’re taken to the alchemists and through a rather gruesome procedure you are turned into a ‘Tallowman’, lovingly referred to by our main characters as ‘candle fuckers’. Tallowmen are, as the name suggests, men made out of candle wax, they burn a wick made from their old spinal cord and if they go out they sort of stop? It’s hard to describe their role within the story, they are kind of guards, kind of thugs, kind of terrifying general horror for our characters to encounter. In my imagination, they are truly horrifying and I found them to be a great alternative to the generic ‘unnamed guard’ problem you sometimes find in fantasy. They’re made all the more terrifying because of the threat that you might one day become one, a threat that looms over almost every one of our characters at some point or another.
The Stone Plague. This isn’t something entirely unique to this story, there are variations on the ‘disease that makes you turn to stone’ in quite a few books but this one felt particularly awful. In essence, if someone with the stone plague (known as stone men) stops moving then they will continue to calcify, eventually ending up starving to death or suffocating because too much of them have turned to stone, only the hard to find chemical/medicine alkahest can help them. This could easily have been a throwaway detail in this world – some people have the stone plague how sad – but instead, Hanrahan challenges himself by having one of the three main characters be a stone man, afflicted with the plague. This makes the disease hit so much closer to home for the reader, you live through the horror of a life being gradually taken over by stone in intimate detail. It was truly troubling and was probably the character arc with which I most connected in this story. Of the three thieves, Spar is probably my favourite character, and you know that when I root for the male character over the spunky female protagonist that it has to be good.
Magic. This is a setting where magic is pretty prevalent. It had been a while since I last read a book in which having magic wasn’t a privilege or something forbidden. It isn’t that everyone has magic but it is a setting where magical things are not abnormal. I thought that the development of one particular character’s experience of something a bit more supernatural was very interesting and a clever way of exploring religion within a fantasy setting. I can’t say too much more or I’ll spoil it, but it is clever and interesting and I wish I had written it.
This book is creepy and creative and detailed and I was amazed by how much I enjoyed it. I’m such a character-driven person, if I don’t like or connect with the characters then I tend to switch off. I can’t say that I liked these characters particularly, or that I connected with them in any great way, but the story and the setting were both so interesting that I got truly swept up in the narrative and finished the book desperate to find out what happens next. Tragically, I will have to wait a while for the next book in The Black Iron Legacy but it will certainly be going onto my preorder list as soon as possible.
If you like epic fantasy and you’re looking for a truly weird and wonderful world which is quite dark then I would certainly suggest you read this. Give it some time to build and to get to the meat of the plot, but once you’re swept up I’m certain you’ll have a good time!
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
The Gutter Prayer comes out on January 17th! Preorder here (affiliate link).
What say you? Is The Gutter Prayer on your TBR? Let me know in the comments below!