ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit— in exchange for an honest review.
ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit— in exchange for an honest review.
I don’t think it’s too soon for me to say that The Gutter Prayer will be the best fantasy debut of 2019.
I have been anticipating this book ever since I first laid my eyes upon the gorgeous cover art by Richard Anderson. You see, I have this perception that any fantasy book with Richard Anderson’s art gracing its cover will most likely reflect that beauty with amazing content inside; once again I was proven right. In my opinion, Orbit is one of the best modern fantasy publishers these days. This is even more evident if we’re speaking about debuts released over the past two years, such as Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames and Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker. The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan has strengthened that notion.
I haven’t read a dark fantasy novel as original and riveting as The Gutter Prayer since Michael Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions. I’m serious, this is a must read for every dark fantasy enthusiast. The only other form of escapism I can think of that’s similar to this triumphant book is the critically acclaimed video game, Bloodborne. The main plot of the book revolves around a group of three young thieves as they are involuntarily caught in an ancient magical war between gods, monsters, ghouls, worm-men, Tallowmen, and sorcerers. As you can probably guess from terms like worm-man and Tallowman, this book was freaking bizarre, twisted, and insane in fantastic ways. Hanrahan’s imagination is a sacred blessing for the fantasy genre and I demand more fantasy books as original as this one. The prologue was immediately intriguing, and from there the book relentlessly elevates itself to a phenomenal level of quality by making sure every element for a great fantasy was offered within each new chapter.
“Change is simultaneously a fast and a slow process. The great forces of history are slow-moving and unnoticed by those surrounded by them, visible only in hindsight where they appear inevitable.”
Unpredictable and incredibly well-told story aside, the characters were fascinatingly original. The main characters, Carillon, Rat the Ghoul, and Spar the Stone Man, have a dynamic and interesting friendship going on between them. Like many great SFF authors, Hanrahan imbued life into the naming of the characters. It did take me more or less 100 pages to fully warm up to the characters, as there was a bit of a learning curve in the beginning; readers were immediately put into a chaotic situation and had to make sense of things along the way. If you find yourself a bit confused, I strongly suggest being patient. This book is superbly rewarding and totally worth finishing. Once I made it through the first 100 pages, I realized that I had become invested in both the main and side characters, and was genuinely curious about their fates; the three young thieves in particular really stole my heart.
As much as I loved the characters, IF I had to choose one favorite aspect from this book I would personally choose the world-building, which is something rare for me because I usually prioritize characterizations over everything else, but this novel is a special case. I loved how efficiently, intricately, and effectively the world-building was presented. However, it was the sheer originality regarding the creation of the world in this book that completely awed me. Gods, catastrophic alchemical weaponry, divine and terrifying monstrosities, saints, humans, ghouls, and eldritch horrors filled these pages exceptionally. Plus, the rich history and lore of the city of Guerdon made the world feel fully realized and vividly constructed. The City of Guerdon was not just a simple setting, but was almost as an additional and crucial character around which every great factor of the book revolved. There’s still so much I want to talk about regarding the world-building but I really have to stop. Trust me, it will be exponentially better for you to read Hanrahan’s terrific vision without knowing anything about it, as I did.
“But there are moments when things can change, when the forces balance and it’s possible for people – individual people – to make a big difference. To – realign things. Remake the world.”
You don’t have to worry about the book having a weak conclusion. Satisfying and rewarding ending aside, the blasting final action scenes were an absolute masterwork that cemented the novel into 5-star territory with finesse. Both world-building and pulse-pounding action worked harmoniously to create unputdownable, cataclysmic scenes in the last 100 pages of the book. There was so much chaos going on and yet they were miraculously easy to follow. It was during this final section that I started thinking of the author as a mad genius. Hanrahan painted breathtaking scenes of Armageddon with a blazing lance that pierced through my fortress of empathy. I also felt that the voices in my reality were muted by the descending avatar of God’s wrath that inflicted devastating calamity with palpable tensions. Honestly speaking, the final brutal action sequences of this book could’ve even worked as the final battle of the series itself if the author had chosen. I have no doubt that the explosive hurricane of malevolence and the conflagration of light in the city of Guerdon will give readers a wild and unforgettable experience.
This was all possible because Hanrahan is an immensely gifted writer. The book was told in multi third-person perspective in the present tense and his prose absolutely didn’t feel like something produced by a debut author; it was rich in quality and extremely well-written. Seriously, most of the passages and sentences he came up with were simplistically written and yet conjured impactful, evocative, and vivid imagery. Here’s a little passage from the first page of the novel so you can get a tiny glimpse of what I’m talking about:
“From here, you see the heart of the old city, its palaces and churches and towers reaching up like the hands of a man drowning, trying to break free of the warren of alley ways and hovels that surrounds them.”
How awesome is that? I’ve never read any author described a skyscraper as the hands of a man drowning and I thought it conveyed a clear image and vision of what kind of book readers are getting into right from the start. If you’re experiencing fantasy fatigue because you feel like most books in the genre is starting to feel too familiar, this book shall be your ambrosia. It was perpetually earth-shattering and it provided a healthy injection of escapist euphoria when I needed a full dose.
I’m going to close my review here by saying that The Gutter Prayer is mind-blowingly stellar in every respect; full of seductive creativity, marvelously intelligent, innovative, and frankly revolutionary. This dark and enchanting debut contained no shortage of alluring madness and wondrous imagination that manifests itself gloriously within the pages. Fantasy readers, be wise and buy this book, because there’s simply nothing like it. It worked incredibly well as a standalone, but anyone who’ve read it will know that THIS IS NOT THE LAST installment and I absolutely can’t wait for the sequel. With this superlative debut, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan has established himself as the newest virtuoso to enter the pantheon of fantasy greats. I envision that The Gutter Prayer will not only win many readers’ hearts but also win multiple fantasy awards in the near future. Yes, it was THAT good. Read it. Thank me later.
Official release date: January 17th (UK) and 22th (US), 2019
You can get this book more than a month early if you purchase the signed and numbered limited edition (with sprayed edges too!) from Goldsboro Books!
You can pre-order the book with free shipping by clicking this link!
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.