Attention must be given to one of the most unique and fascinating openings in fiction, in which a building metaphorically live-tweets its own death. It sets the grim tone of the book and introduces us to the novel's setting, the ancient and decadent city of Geurdon, and some of its varied denizens including stone men, ghouls and living wax guards. It's one hell of a page turner.
The Gutter Prayer's plot unfolds through a cast of characters each as unique and interesting as the next. My personal favourite was the stone man, Spar, for who each day is a battle of survival. He must negotiate his way through a city filled with people and things that want to kill him while keeping at bay a plague that will turn him to stone. Every page with Spar is tense, worrying and absolutely exhausting (in a good way). Sometimes, I found myself unable to breathe. A clear sign of great writing. Another character I loved is Jere, a thief-taker and veteran of the Godswar (more on that later). There is also the mysterious Cari who plays a pivotal role in events, the scholar Eladora who experiences some of the biggest character growth, and the bloody hilarious Saint Aleena who steals the show whenever she appears on page. I found each of the characters likeable and relatable, and was keen to see where each of their stories crossed and led.
One of my favourite things about the book is that the city of Geurdon is also like a living and breathing character itself. It feels like a cross between the industrial city of Dunwall from the Dishonoured videogame series and the city of Paris with its beautiful architecture, subway trains, dirty slums and deep catacombs. The city runs deep into the earth and filled with horrifying mysteries and mysterious horrors. It's vast, lived-in, historic and surreal. It's also just as conflicted as its citizens, sliced and diced by multiple factions each vying for control. From the creepy mask-wearing worm colonies of the Crawling Ones to the mediatating corpse-eating Ghouls to the fanatical saint-producing Keepers to the chemical bomb-making Alchemists. And then there are the Ravellers.
The story is also set to the backdrop of the Godswar, a self-explanatory name for a war of chemical bombs and fire-wielding saints. What glimpses we do get of the Godswar are mind-blowing. No doubt we will get further insights in subsequent books. Overall, I absolutely loved The Gutter Prayer with its excellent characters, worldbuilding and storytelling. Gareth Hanrahan has become one of my favourite writers. I look forward to reading the sequel, The Shadow Saint.
5 / 5