ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
The Shadow Saint by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Black Iron Legacy (Book #2)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Dark Fantasy
Pages: 592 pages (UK paperback edition)
Published: 9th January 2020 by Orbit (UK) & 7th January 2020 by Orbit (US)
The Shadow Saint, the sequel to my favorite debut of 2019, is here and it successfully met my high expectations with so much energy.
Firstly, a shout out to one of my favorite artists, Richard Anderson, for creating another gorgeous cover art. Remember what I said at the beginning of my review of The Gutter Prayer? I tend to find the content of an SFF book with Anderson’s cover art to be as good as the cover, and this statement holds incredibly well once again. Secondly, if it’s been a while since you’ve read the first book, please remember that the author has a detailed recap (thank god!) of the previous book on his website. I finished reading The Gutter Prayer almost exactly a year ago. Back then, despite the book being released this year, I made a bold claim that The Gutter Prayer would be my favorite debut published in 2019, and seeing there are only five weeks left in 2019, I don’t see any possibility of this claim being proven wrong. I loved The Gutter Prayer so much, and with that in mind, The Shadow Saint managed to not only live up to my high expectation but also, once again, become one of my favorite reads of the year.
The Shadow Saint is the second book in The Black Iron Legacy series by Gareth Hanrahan. Some of you may remember that The Black Iron Legacy was planned to be a duology, as it turns out, that’s longer the case because there will be a third book. The story in The Shadow Saint begins months after The Gutter Miracle/The Crisis that changed the landscape of Guerdon that occurred at the end of the first book. Rumors of a new weapon being hidden inside the New City have spread, and now the two most powerful factions in the upcoming Godswar are sending their agents respectively to retrieve the destructive weapon.
“The way the Godswar is going, the whole world will be consumed sooner or later, every living soul devoured in the hungers of the mad deities.”
I think it will be beneficial for many readers to know—I definitely would’ve preferred knowing about this—that the majority of the events in The Shadow Saint are told from the perspectives of Eladora and two new characters, especially in the first half of the book. The Gutter Prayer ended in a completely standalone fashion that the The Shadow Saint, in a way, felt like a standalone sequel that follows a new set of characters with a new storyline to explore. A side character from the previous book—Eladora—do take the central stage here, and her development was superb, but it did take me a while to find myself invested in the new characters; throughout the first 30% I was genuinely scared that I won’t meet any of the main characters from the previous book here because I want to know more about what happened to them. The Shadow Saint is a book that progressively gets better and better, and thankfully, the new characters gradually became more interesting, more fascinating, and empathizing as the story progressed.
Hanrahan did a terrific job in developing Eladoras and the new main characters: Terevant and The Spy. The Spy, in particular, was an incredibly fascinating character to read due to his capability to shift into a different persona at his own will. No one knows his real name and identity; being inside his head as he changed his persona repeatedly made his perspective super intriguing to read. For example, The Spy goes by the name/character of Alic, Sanhada Baradhin, or X84, to name a few; all of them have different personalities and backgrounds despite being essentially the same character. I feel like this is such a great take on a character with the role of a spy, and the moral dilemmas the character had due to being in that role was complex and believable. However, as enamored I was with Eladoras, Terevant, and The Spy, I must admit that I have a soft spot for the main characters from the previous book. I do personally think that the majority of the top highlights of the novel involved the appearances of the main characters from The Gutter Prayer. I am a sucker for well-told characterizations and character development, I love that the feeling I get when I look back to the beginning of a series and I’m able to see how much has changed for the characters, that’s what I get with the returning characters in this book. When I think about the beginning of The Gutter Prayer compared to the ongoing chaotic events in The Shadow Saint, it truly felt like so many pivotal moments have happened and changed the characters—both mentally and physically—that was there since the beginning; this situation can be applied to Eladoras as well, and I’m happier for it.
Speaking of characters, I’ve mentioned how the setting, the City of Guerdon, has become a character with proper development and personality on its own before; I can vouch that the same circumstances are still applicable in The Shadow Saint. Honestly speaking, when it comes to world-building and visualizations, not many authors can describe scenes and settings as vivid, dark, and good as Hanrahan. Hanrahan has an imagination, that when put on a page, gives a breath of fresh air to the fantasy genre. Here’s a small example of his writing:
“The New City rises above them, a sheer cliff of unlikely architecture… Fractal shapes frozen in stone, great plazas that end in abrupt cliffs, towers like fingers on the hand of a petrified giant, all growing from the same root structure.”
He did the same thing in the first book, describing and comparing architecture to body parts, and it just worked so damn well for me somehow; I could easily imagine myself seeing the same things that the characters see from his writing. Here’s another example that adds more immersion to the visualization and reading experience:
“In Jaleh’s house, Alic and his son share a room with a man who wakes up screaming every night, and another who has roots and branches growing from his flesh. There are other prodigies in other rooms; a dying man whose innards are turning to gold, a woman whose skin blisters when she speaks the name of any god but the one who’s claimed her, a child who laughs and dances on the ceiling. It’s a refuge for those damaged by the war.”
Just within one paragraph, the atmosphere, the sound, the setting, were set with immediate effectiveness that ended up escalating the sense of immersion in the specific chapter. It’s efficient, it’s powerfully vivid, and it’s darkly delightful to read.
“Alchemical weapons inflicted terrible casualties on the armies of Ishmere. Saints dying in agony, their bones transmuted to lead, their lungs seared by poisonous gas. Phlogiston fires that cannot be quenched still burn on the battlefield.”
I loved reading Hanrahan’s prose; the choices and structure of words he constructed clicked with me remarkably well, and this is most evident when I’m reading his action sequences that are full of blasting devastations. Following the previous book’s tradition, the final quarter of this book was bloody magnificent and heart-pounding, Hanrahan’s depicted a gathering of madness where humans, divinities, machinery, sorcery, and monstrosities all clashed diabolically for supremacy or survival. The Shadow Saint did sacrifice the appearances of some alchemical hell from the previous book in exchange for more tempestuous fury brought by the gods and humans. For instance, this gigantic spider:
“Eight legs arch from horizon to horizon, arching higher than the sky. Eight eyes like moons blaze with madness and hatred. Mandibles quiver as they taste the secret thoughts of every living soul in the city, and fangs drop godly venom that splashes on the southern wall of the fort, melting the stones. The sun does not set – it flees the master of shadows, the lord of whispers.”
The feeling of doom birthed from the gargantuan desolation was amplified by the gloom and color of the sky that’s filled with vengeful gods; the battling Gods and Saints—an avatar of Gods—under the cloud of darkness conjured destructive lightning and a maelstrom of horror. In the face of a blazing burning sword and an indestructible holy armor, it’s safe to say that when the gods meddle, the mortals tremble. In the words of Saint Aleena: “Fucking fuckers are trying to fuck us.”
“Victory means a slow and bloody grind: kill every worshipper, tear down every temple, break every relic, dispel every miracle – and do it all again, over and over, until the god’s a forgotten shadow, shrieking in the void.”
I’m going to end my review here; it’s 1.5k words already and this review has taken me four hours to write. The Shadow Saint is an unconventional, unpredictable, and undeniably scintillating sequel to the best fantasy debut of 2019. Count on Hanrahan to deliver an imaginative, refreshing, and explosive reading experience and he shall distribute it to you mercilessly. Same as The Gutter Prayer, the stellar and intelligently crafted nature of The Shadow Saint left a mind-blowing impression on me. With The Shadow Saint, Hanrahan cemented his spot as one of the most inventive storytellers in the genre. I honestly don’t know where the story will go from here, but I’m definitely excited to find out as soon as possible.
Official release date: 9th January 2020 (UK) and 7th January 2020 (US)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.