The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

An easy four stars.

The story starts with three thieves attempting a heist in a building for the job to go spectacularly wrong. So far so standard.

However our three thieves are not your typical protagonists, at least to some degree. Rat is a ghoul who literally survives on eating the dead. Spar is the son of a previous leader of thieves. He seems the typical good, responsible guy but is slowly dying of a plague that is slowly turning him to stone, he needs to keep taking injections to slow it down. Now Cari is your typical protagonist. Running away from a difficult past and returning to her home city almost by accident and getting caught up with the other two but I found her the most intriguing of the three and that backstory as it unfolds is very interesting. There are a couple of other POV’s as well and I particularly enjoyed Cari’s cousin Eladora, hers is probably the most profound change throughout the book and I am curious as to where it’s leading.

One of the main elements in this story that I haven’t mentioned yet is the city itself, Guerdon. I’m not sure if China Mieville’s New Crobuzon is an influence of the author but it’s what came to my mind as I was reading it. Not that it was copied in any way but in the imagination that was shown in its creation.

It feels like an old city and that there’s much more to it even than what we find out by the end. It’s inhabited by humans, but also the ghouls, Crawling Ones (humanoid piles of sentient worms), Tallowmen (living wax humanoids) amongst other things. There are gods a plenty, who are quite real, with living Saints empowered by them. Refreshingly this is also a fairly modern city as we know it. There are trains, buildings of a democratic government and universities. In the background is the God’s War, far away but it feels close as the city is supplying weapons to both sides and is desperate not to get involved. I think this is going to play more of a part in future books.

The only thing I felt was a little disappointing are the characters. They didn’t stand out too much but it did seem to improve as the novel progressed and as this is a debut novel I’m hopeful that it will get better as the author gets more experience.

The tone is fairly grim throughout, so might not be to everyone’s taste but I enjoyed it and once I got used to the setting I was immersed. I think that this is a very strong debut and am very much looking forward to reading future books in the series. 

4 stars out of 5

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