The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

I’ve been waiting to read this ever since I started hearing extraordinary buzz from other readers who had managed to snare an early copy. It’s a funny thing that organic excitement that builds when a bunch of bloggers you share favourite books with start tweeting about something before you’ve seen any regular publicity. I wanted nothing more than for this to be my first book of the year and I wasn’t disappointed. Hanrahan has given us something special.

This incredible debut is a mixture of grimdark and fantasy with an absolutely outlandish plot and set inside a universe that is brilliantly constructed from the very beginning. Firstly I’ve never read such an awesome epilogue. I was a page or two in and wondering what on earth was going and then a window in my mind, one I previously had not known existed, opened, and what was going on became clear as crystal. I very quickly realised I was dealing with a tricky author and prepared myself for some concepts I’d not encountered before. Again I wasn’t disappointed.

The world building is exquisite and Hanrahan’s extraordinary breadth of imagination is on display in every page. Whilst reading I felt I could almost smell the ground and see the building I’d be forced to hide in as a new horror wandered the streets. It reminded me a little of Michael R. Fletcher’s writing and I found myself utterly sucked in and enveloped in the sights and sounds. The entire book takes place within the city of Guerdon but we are constantly reminded there are bigger stakes and a bigger universe at play. Every page fills out the world somehow and I could not get enough of this aspect of the writing.

The characters on their own are interesting and develop nicely. Cari is a wild cat, unpredictable and fierce, Rat is a ghoul and the first time I think I’ve ever seen that particular race given a complex culture and social structure and finally Spar the Stone Man. I loved the treatment Spar was given and how his disease affected every aspect of his life. We’ve seen a similar disease dealt with before, GOT for instance, but I’ve never gone so deeply into the consequences. This isn’t just a highly contagious man that turns mad and has hard skin. Spar is always in motion, rocking slightly here and there, blinking, swallowing and shuffling because the moment he stops his joints begin to calcify. And lets talk about the bad guys! You will fear the waxy ghastliness of the Tallowman, dread the sentient wriggling worms and shit your pants when the Raveller comes to town. The beasties in this book are original and in some cases truly frightening and the fact that a majority of them were engineered or created by alchemy with a human hand at the controls only increased the horror element. I can’t wait to see what Hanrahan comes up with next because he has created a world where absolutely everything is on the table.

There were only one or two things that I didn’t get out of this book that stopped me from giving this one a five. The relationships between the characters could have been stronger. The reason the three ‘heroes’ actually hung out together in the first place was never really explored and despite them being set up as a band who will play to each other strengths and cover each other’s weaknesses, we don’t really get to see it. Most of the characters muse internally a great deal but their conversations with each other are very short and don’t reveal much. Don’t get me wrong the characters develop but any growth or significant discovery seems to happen when they are apart and it felt like a bit of an opportunity missed. I’d have loved to have learned more about them through their interactions with each other.

The other thing was that there were a number of occasions where large events were dismissed or downplayed. In one pivotal moment a main character gives such an incredible and rousing speech that his followers are drowning him out with chants of his name. We don’t actually get the speech though, so I didn’t get to be inspired. Shortly after there was a huge fight scene where a trap is sprung and the balance of power shifts. We don’t see the majority of the fight though we just get one of the characters piecing together what happened in her mind afterwards like a quick summary. The same thing happened minutes later when, what sounded like an absolutely epic bloody fight, was told to the reader by a character hearing snippets of conversation about the event after it has happened. These are the bits that get my heart pumping and get me wriggling on the couch after reading 400 pages and approaching some sort of finale and I’m sure some parts were cut so the book didn’t end up being 700 pages long and so they did not distract from bigger events occurring later on but still I want these moments. Make no mistake there were some beautiful fight scenes and an exciting finale with a big twist that is not to be ignored, but again I felt like there were one or two missed opportunities.

The Gutter Prayer is an exceptional debut with world building one would expect of a seasoned veteran and ideas and concepts that could easily have come from the mind of a madman. It is a fine example of dark fantasy where man, monster, saint and god all co-exist. There was nothing I did not like only things I wanted more of and I expect the second book in this series to get even better.

Thanks to Orbit for providing me a review copy.


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