Bear with me, y’all, as I catch up on posting about stuff I read since September. 😳 I learned about Hanrahan’s Gutter Prayer from one of Lashaan’s posts. Fantasy books about gods, religions, and beliefs intrigue me, so this one immediately sparked my interest and I started reading as soon as I could get my hands on it.
Black Iron Legacy, book 1
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. (Goodreads)
The story is set in a city called Guerdon during a time when many cities are at war with their gods. So far, Guerdon has managed to avoid becoming involved in the Godwars and instead make a profit by selling alchemical weapons to those who need them to fight the gods, who operate through their chosen saints who’re blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with certain abilities to better serve their god.
Guerdon is a city that is constantly evolving and thus has several layers as new cities are built on top of old ones to better serve the needs of its people. From my understanding, the ghouls were once people and were the original inhabitants of the city. They live in the catacombs, deep under the city, and feed on the city’s dead. They are psychopomps who transport the dead’s spirit to the underworld to their elders. But in the present day, they are not the only ones who feed on the dead. There are also the Crawling Ones, sorcerous worm colonies that sound too disgusting for me to imagine. They can assume human form and also reside in the catacombs under the city.
Guerdon once had gods — the Black Iron Gods — but somehow managed to get rid of them (or did they?) and made a deal with the ghouls to guard the prison deep underground that locks away the Black Iron Gods’ servants, the Ravellers —black, formless, deadly beings that can take on any shape and are near impossible to kill.
When the story begins, our protagonist Carillon, a drifter who somehow finds herself back in Guerdon, is taking part in a heist at the city’s House of Law with her close friends Rat, a ghoul, and Spar, a Stone Man (people who have contracted an infectious virus that slowly calcifies their flesh until they become living statues and die) whose late father was once leader of the thief’s guild. The heist doesn’t go as planned and Cari and Spar are caught by a thief-taker (a bounty hunter). They later realize that the master of the thief’s guild had set them up. However, during the heist, something odd happens to Cari — she begins having visions of the city whenever the city’s bells ring but is unable to puzzle out why. But with the help of Professor Ongent, who specializes in esoteric knowledge of the city, she soon learns why and tries to use to the ability to help her friends, avoid a Raveller that seems to be hunting her, and stop the mad alchemists from creating and detonating a god bomb.
The Gutter Prayer was an entertaining read for me. The concept of gods operating through humans, using them as their avatars, and cities at war with their gods interested me, and I wanted the story to dig a little deeper there. As you can probably tell from my recount above, I was much more interested in the worldbuilding — the city’s history and its connection to the gods — than the characters. To me, the worldbuilding is the strongest part of the story and the most interesting. There are so many layers to Guerdon, and its history with its gods is fascinating. The beings who inhabit the city are interesting too. In addition to ghouls, Ravellers, and disgusting Crawling Ones, there are also creatures created with alchemy, such as the Tallowmen, which I thought of as human-shaped candles. They are “inhumanly fast,” deadly, pitiless creatures who guard the city’s streets acting as its law enforcers.
Guerdon is an old city and when walking around it, you can see landmarks indicating an older time or past beliefs (religions?) that captivated the city. My favorite parts are when the story focuses on Professor Ongent or Cari’s cousin, Eladora, a scholar, as those characters are some of the most knowledgeable about the city and more apt to drop some history about it. The same goes for Rat, kind of. From Rat, we learn more about the ghouls and the symbiotic relationship the ghoul community has with the city.
But for the most part, I didn’t care for the characters. I don’t think we are given enough to connect with them. I was also glad that we aren’t stuck in Cari’s perspective for the entirety of the story because I did not like her and thought she was very immature for her age. I began the book thinking that she, Rat, and Spar are all teenagers but later learned that they are adults in their early to mid-twenties. I also didn’t understand Cari’s attraction to Miren because they hardly communicated with each other. The sexual connection between them was random, but considering how Cari and Miren were made, I wondered if the Raveller bits that made them was driving them to connect in any way and having sex was the only way they could do so. (I don’t know. That connection just confused me.) However, despite my lack of connection, Aleena the saint caught my attention by being a foul-mouthed badass. I’d love to read more scenes featuring her, and I wouldn’t mind spending more time reading from Eladora’s POV because I think I’d learn more about the city that way.
I also didn’t like the writing, unfortunately. The flow didn’t work me, and although I appreciated the shift in perspective since that means we’re not stuck with Cari the entire time, sometimes the shift confused me and I’d be unsure about whose perspective I was reading from.
The story has some interesting bits. The worldbuilding is the most fascinating part, but the characters and writing weren’t as strong to me. However, I intend to try the second book in the series because I’d like to know more about the gods and what started the Godwars.