Ok, so where do I start with this book? The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan was a book with quite a bit of hype surrounding it. Since November last year, I have been hearing more and more people singing the praises of this book and so I was quite excited to pick this book up – if a little worried about my expectations being too high and getting let down. I can tell you now that this book lives up to the hype: I loved it.
The plot follows the story of three thieves: Carillion Thay, or Cari, is a runaway member of a once powerful and influential family; Spar is the son of the old head of the thieves guild’s (The Brotherhood) and cursed with the Stone Plague, and finally Rat, a young ghoul fighting his inner desires to consume the flesh of the dead and hide beneath the city in the vast, endless network of tunnels that exist beneath the ancient city of Guerdon.
When we first meet these three unlikely but strongest of friends, they are in the middle of heist job. It should be a simple job – break in, grab the loot and run – but they’re betrayed. The current head of the Brotherhood is using them as a decoy. Their quest for the truth and revenge leads them down a path of complex conspiracies and politics, some centuries old, that threaten to unravel and unleash a wave of bloodshed and destruction across the city.
All three of these characters are interesting, well written and have their own motivations which develop over the course of the book. Spar and Cari’s story arcs, while closely interwoven, are quite separate in many ways with Spar more interested in more ‘normal’ and worldly goals, while Cari is dragged into a world of gods, demons and magic. Rat flits somewhere between the two, though I would say that in the end his story is more closely-related to Cari’s. For me at least, he had the most interesting chapters of the three as I really enjoyed the unique element that being a ghoul brought: forcing him to battle between his desire to live in the human world and his natural ghoulish desires and thoughts.
Where this book really shines however is in its secondary characters and the its world-building. Apart from our three main characters, we meet and hear the story from a plethora of other fascinating characters. My personal favourites were Jere (his chapters really give you an amazing sense of the city and its history), Eladora and Aleena, who gets big bonus points for being brutally honest in a book where everyone else seems to have some form of secret agenda and getting incredibly frustrated by the whole thing. Eladora was a strange one for me despite ending up being a personal favourite, because she felt quite annoying at the beginning. But the more of her story I read, and the more her character arc developed, the more engrossed I felt. She wants nothing more than to live a quiet life and study at the university, but no, she gets dragged into a war between gods and encounters just about every terrifying creature going in the city. Really, she is the true victim of this whole piece!
The city of Guerdon feels like a character in itself, as well. Hanrahan’s writing brings the place alive and makes I feel utterly unique as a setting. The closest setting I can think of is The City in the old Thief series of games with its quasi-magical technology and gritty tones, but it’s still not quite right. Aside from humans, Guerdon is inhabited by a whole host of absolutely terrifying creatures. I particularly liked (wrong word as I would never want to meet any of them, but they were great additions to the book) those that inhabited the undercity: the ghouls and The Crawling Ones (humanoid bodies made up of grave worms and controlled by a hive-mind that consume the flesh and souls of the dead). Ghouls are quite common in a fantasy setting, people know a lot about them, but they had a unique twist to them in this book, where as The Crawling Ones were a bit different and new and oh so creepy.
From the off, the pacing of this book is high. Thrown straight into the action with the heist and betrayal of our three main protagonists, we are forced to piece together the puzzle that is this story. For the first 100 pages or so, you might not be entirely sure what is going on, but this works well as it mirrors Cari’s, Spar’s and Rat’s experiences: their worlds have been thrown into chaos and confusion, separated from each other by the betrayal of the Brotherhood and the pursuing forces of the law. After this, the pace dips for a bit and gives you a little break. You have a bit of time to get more comfortable and familiar with the characters, the setting and the story, before you are once more whisked off break-neck speed. The last 100 pages or so of the book are bonkers and epic in the best possible way.
In conclusion, I would definitely recommend this book! Especially to those who like their fantasy on the darker and grittier side. I’m pretty sure that I haven’t done this book justice in the review, but yeah. It’s good and you should read it.