The second book in The Black Iron Legacy series, The Shadow Saint by Gareth Hanrahan, is one hell of a book. The previous book, and Hanrahan’s debut, The Gutter Prayer, had been one of my books of 2019 and so I desperately wanted to love this — and I did!
Once again, the story revolves around the city of Guerdon and its efforts to recover from The Crisis, come to terms with the effects of The Gutter Miracle, and still maintain its neutrality in The Godswar. However, with rumours of a weapon capable of killing gods themselves, this could be an impossible task as the rival powers of Haith and Ishmere set their eyes on the city.
We see this conflict through the eyes of three characters: Eladora Duttin, a shy and reserved young lady who wants nothing more than to be left alone to read — unfortunately for her, the events of the previous book have catapulted her into the centre of the cities politics; The Spy, an agent of Ishmere with several identities; and Terevant Erevesic, the younger son of a powerful and ancient family from Haith sent to work at the city’s embassy Guerdon.
These three characters were brave choices by Hanrahan, in my opinion. One of the great strengths of The Gutter Prayer was the personalities and characters that it revolved around. So introducing three new main characters — I know Eladora isn’t new to the story, but she wasn’t a main POV character in The Gutter Prayer — was an interesting choice that paid off, mostly.
Of the three, Eladora was easily my favourite. Though I suspect she has a bit of an unfair advantage as she had featured reasonably prominently in the previous book. As such, I already had a bit of a connection to her. One of the interesting things about her, and all the characters actually, is that they are all slow and measured, which is very much in contrast to the three main characters from The Gutter Prayer. Of the other two characters, I was initially drawn in by The Spy and his network of different personalities and ‘faces’ that allowed him to infiltrate the multiple layers of Guerdon. Trying to piece together which one was closest to his true self was quite fun, in my opinion. Terevant, on the other hand, was just okay. He was just a bit bland in comparison to the others, but he still had some great moments in his line, including some great internal monologue that made me chuckle when he first met Miss Duttin. While I am on the topic of Terevant, I feel like Yoras, one of the side characters attached to him, deserves a shout out! Like an undead Samwise Gamgee with that level of loyalty!
Oh, and dont worry, Cari, Rat and Spar all make appearances too!
In terms of the plot, this book is a bit of a slow builder. The opening half especially meanders through the city and the characters storylines before they begin to really intermingle. This gives us plenty of time to get to know our characters, and see what has happened to the city since the end of The Gutter Prayer.If you’re not a fan of slower, more character-focused stories then you may struggle with this opening, but the second half really does build up the pace and stakes. And by the end, we have plenty of action that really can only be described as epic in scale. Hanrahan really got a chance to let his creative juices flow here!
One of my favourite things about The Gutter Prayer was the world-building. I loved Guerdon and its weird mish-mash of terrifying monsters, divinely-powered saints, steam punkish technology, and faintly Victorian theme. And once again, this was one of the best bits of The Shadow Saint! We got more of everything, including the history of Guerdon and a whole host of new monsters. The power of the saints especially is explored more here. Amnd to top this all off, we get a bit of a wider view of the world as well! The Gutter Prayer had a very narrow focus on Guerdon, but here we learn so much more about other powers, primarily Haith and Ishmere, and the horrors of the Godswar — which, to me, seems like some horrific WWI-inspired war, but with mad gods and monsters added into the mixture.
Overall, I just can’t not recommend this book. I loved the first one and I loved this one. If you like your fantasy on the grimier, grimdark side and with plenty of intriguing plots and characters, then you’ll love it too. I’m sure of it!