I picked up The Shadow Saint based on Aquavenatus’s recommendation. She’d commented on one of my posts saying this second book in the Black Iron Legacy trilogy is worth checking out and is more of a world-building book, which got me curious. You see, I was conflicted about continuing with the series. I liked the first book, but there were some faults that didn’t make me too eager to continue with the story. But the story stuck with me, because I love fantasy stories about gods and religion, and Aquavenatus’s recommendation was just the nudge I needed to give it another chance. I’m glad I did.
Black Iron Legacy, book 1
spoilers for the first book
“The Ishmeric pantheon is always in flux, always changing as the gods of one island rise in prominence, or one god metamorphoses through sheer madness into some new aspect.”
The Black Iron Legacy trilogy is set in a world that is drowning in a war fought by gods through their saints — the humans they choose to serve as their avatars. It’s said that the gods have all gone mad, which has brought on the Godswar. All the countries are involved in the war, except Guerdon, which is playing both sides — because it’s profitable.
The first book in the trilogy, Gutter Prayer, centers on Guerdon. It’s about a young woman, Carillon, who finds herself back in Guerdon, her home city, after spending some years away. She falls in with Rat, a ghoul, and Spar, a Stone Man (Stone Men are people afflicted by a disease that slowly turns them into stone), and together they work for the thieves’ guild. The first book focuses on Carillon feeling drawn toward the city’s former gods, the Black Iron gods, that are trapped in large bells around the city, and ends with Cari channeling those gods’ power, due to being connected to them through some contrivance of her grandfather, into Spar, who uses it to transform the poorest part of Guerdon into a beautiful, livable space.
The Shadow Saint picks up some time after these events, and we, thankfully, focus on a different cast of characters that more often includes Cari’s cousin, the scholarly Eladora who has a vast and growing knowledge of the city. In this book, it’s obvious that Guerdon will not be able to remain on the edges of Godswar anymore, simply profiting from providing weapons to both sides. In the last book, the city managed to successfully create and deploy a god-bomb, which has caught the attention of the countries at war — they all want in on that bomb.
The Shadow Saint is indeed a world-building book, as our knowledge of the world and the gods in it expand. From Eladora, we learn of Guerdon’s present situation, especially its politics, since Eladora now works for Effro Kelkin, who runs the city. We realize that refugees of the Godswar is a growing crisis as the city tries to prevent refugees from carrying their gods (or rather, their gods’ influences/miracles) into the city with them, in an attempt to prevent the Godswar from reaching Guerdon. We also read from a character POV known only as “the Spy,” who also goes by the label “X84,” is probably a merchant called Sanhada Baradin, and has taken on the identity “Alic.” He’s very intriguing. From him, we get an idea of how the Godswar has ravaged other lands and people, how it is fought, how chaotic it is, and why those fighting in it are now looking toward Guerdon. From him, we also see what it’s like to be a refugee of the Godswar and get an idea of the trials refugees endure to get to and survive in Guerdon. The other notable perspective we read from is Terevant, a member of a royal house in Haith, a country to the north that shares a border with Guerdon. He seems to be the “black sheep” in his family. He’s a poet, a dreamer, the youngest boy, and considered a “fuck up.” From him, we get some idea of how other governments try to infiltrate Guerdon to gain influence there, and a faint idea of what it’s like to fight in the Godswar. Terevant served in his country’s army.
Of course, the Godswar does arrive at Guerdon in this book, and these characters are all involved somehow in causing and resolving it. (Goodreads)
This book really surprised me. I completed the first novel in the trilogy in 2021, giving it 3 stars and felt sure that I probably won’t continue with it. But the world was so interesting and the concept of the gods such a puzzle that I couldn’t shake it. The story stuck with me and every now and then I’d wonder how the war would play out and what exactly are those gods.
When I returned to the story in The Shadow Saint, I was easily hooked. One of my annoyances with the first book is that we spend so much time reading from Cari’s perspective, who I find quite immature to the point where I spent the majority of that book thinking she’s a teenager rather than a young woman. I much preferred Eladora for her knowledge because I was most interested in the city and its layers, and that’s EXACTLY what I got in this book. I was very pleased. And in addition to Eladora, we also read from other characters who also have a lot of knowledge about the city and the gods and other countries, like Ishmere and Severast. I felt as if the author was just granting all my wishes. Learning about other countries and the gods made me wish for an index that lists them all, what they are known for and the countries they are associated with.
We also dig deeper into Guerdon and even learn a bit about sorcery through Eladora’s tutelage under Ramegos, a notable figure in the Guerdon government although she’s from another country (I forgot which country), although Eladora’s instruction in sorcery didn’t occur as often as I’d liked. Despite what happened to her toward the story’s end, I hope Ramegos will somehow pop up again in the third book to tell all she knows about the gods, sorcery, and any possible connection between the two.
“Death and duty are inextricably entwined in Haith. Dying well is a duty. The skeletal Vigilants and the iron vessels of the Enshrined watch their living kin not with jealousy, but with cold expectation.”
Haith and it’s obsession with death was very interesting, especially since they do not seem to have a god in the sense that the other countries do. Their Vigilants, undead warriors, interested me as well. It was hard for me to imagine the Vigilants because there were some inconsistencies in their description. I was imagining a moving skeleton, so no flesh, since they are said to be skeletal. But at one point, I think they are referred to as zombies, so then I got confused. Also, toward the end when Yoras, an acquaintance of Terevant’s from the army who became Vigilant, finally got the Erevesic Sword to Terevant, I was confused about how that was done since Yoras’s body was described as ending at his ribcage, so… how did he manage to get where Terevant is? Did I miss something?
Anyway, the Vigilants are interesting and Haith’s attempt to infiltrate Guerdon government was entertaining to read about as well. But reading about Terevant’s character was frustrating because he’s so naïve where Lys is concerned. For me, Terevant was the most disappointing character, despite his heroic moment toward the end. I was expecting him to change the most, and while that happened physically, I don’t think that happened mentally as well. I also wish Lys was more developed and appeared more often, rather than just serving as Terevant’s off-screen crush who’s manipulating him.
But regarding Haith’s obsession with death, its phylacteries, the fact that there’s power or magic in souls, and gods and ghouls both seeming to feed on soul stuff, I wonder if all these factors will come into play in the last book. Will we finally learn what the gods are, if they are something made, as Eladora seems to believe? And what exactly drove them mad? At first I thought it was the goddess Pesh’s obsession with war that drove the gods mad, but now I wonder if the god Fate Spider had some ulterior motive concerning dominating the world and probably whispered something in Pesh’s ear that drove her mad, causing her to infect the other gods with her madness… (I can’t remember if this was admitted to by end).
I have several theories about the gods and sorcery and the like, which ballooned when we got that big reveal at the end regarding the Spy, a.k.a. X84. I’d suspected him due to how he could easily influence people and survive seemingly impossible situations, but I was still surprised when we learned who exactly he is. It made me wonder if there are others like him and how he might influence things in the next book. Can Eladora control him?
I look forward to reading the next book, to get answers to my questions and also to see what new country we’ll visit since Cari is travelling and I think we’ll follow her. I’m not looking forward to reading from her POV, however. I also wonder if Lys will become a POV character as well. I do wonder what’s going on in her head. And I missed the Tallowmen, bloodthirsty candle-like men who policed Guerdon’s streets, in this just because I find them such interesting creatures, although the way they are made and the things they do are horrific. I do wonder if the woman who made them (forgot her name) will pop up again, because I don’t think she died in the first book.
Ha! I gave it the same rating I gave the first one. I actually enjoyed this more than the first book, but I gave it 3 stars because there were a few inconsistencies, the writing still doesn’t work for me, and I wish some characters had more development.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I like the story because of the world it’s set in, so I recommend it.
10 thoughts on ““The Shadow Saint” by Gareth Hanrahan”
When I first opened this post and saw the cover it felt familiar, not because I’d seen it before but because it reminded me of the cover for The Gutter Prayer. So I suppose it makes perfect sense to find out it’s a sequel. 🙂 I’d like to try The Gutter Prayer one day. It really was the cover that drew me to that book.
Lol, yea, similar art. I definitely recommend the books, and I like the covers too. I have the ebooks and have considered getting physical copies. If I like the third book, I might do so.
I wasn’t sure after reading the Gutter Prayer if I wanted to continue the series but as you say, it does stay with you. Having read this review, I’m definitely going to give this next one a go. I think I’m going to need to reread A Gutter Prayer first though.
🙂 Happy to inspire you to try it. How long ago did you read Gutter Prayer? I read it sometime in the second half of last year and was able to get on with this one. There was some recounting of what happened in GP, but the story didn’t dwell on it long and it only mentioned when needed, I think.
I’m glad you enjoyed this sequel. I haven’t read the next book, “The Broken God,” yet; but, I’m looking forward to reading it. The author says he’s “taking time to finish the series,” (there’s now going to be 5 books in this series), so we have time to read Book 3.
Thank you for the shoutout!
LikeLiked by 1 person
That’s such good news! Two more books than I expected.
Yea man, no prob. Thanks for the recommendation.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Great review, Zezee. Having loved The Gutter Prayer a lot, I was mostly shocked and saddened going into this one and discovering a whole new set of characters. It was a bit frustrating. It took time before I could appreciate the rest of the book, especially what the author was trying to achieve with the world and all hahah
Lol! We’re opposites because this new cast appealed to me more.
And thanks too because I think I learned about the first book from you. I look forward to the third one.
LikeLiked by 1 person