Cover art by Richard Anderson
The gods, man: you’re almost certain to die with them and you’re almost certain to die without them. At least, that’s usually the case if you’re a character in a fantasy novel in which deities have made their presence tangibly known. It’s certainly more or less the hard shape of things in Gareth Hanrahan’s fantasy debut The Gutter Prayer.
Tumult and chaos fuel the plot of this series starter, as the city of Guerdon braces for a magical war that no two of the parties involved understand in totality. Gods old and new vie for souls and power. Sorcerers and alchemists create their own fresh horrors to guard the city. Everyone else—including the members of the thieves’ guild—tries to figure out how to come out unscathed.
It is three thieves, in fact, who are at the heart of this story. Carillon Thay, Rat, and Spar: the orphan with a dark past, the ghoul, and the Stone Man, respectively. The opening chapter finds this unlikely trio reeling from a failed heist, though it’s not just a simple matter of a botched job—the three soon find themselves entangled in a complex conspiracy that threatens to quite literally destroy Guerdon.
The moving parts are many, but Hanrahan does a masterful job juggling them—shifting perspectives between characters in and out of the city and keeping the story moving ever forward and ever faster. The world and mythos he’s constructed is impressive, promising no shortage of back alleys to explore or sordid underbellies to expose.
And yet is on the strength of its characters that The Gutter Prayer excels as a debut, and threatens to take its place as one of the year’s most satisfying new dark fantasy novels. Perhaps that seems a bold statement to make in January, but this one is definitely a cut above: within the central trio, you have a diverse set of full and lifelike personalities. Carillon, suddenly plagued by dark and dreadful visions, can be impulsive and self-interested, his natural flaws exacerbated by a childhood filled with trauma and a life spent largely on the run. By accident, she falls in with Guerdon’s ring of theives and meets Spar, son of the Brotherhood’s revered fallen leader, who suffers from both a disease slowly turning his flesh to stone and an inflated sense of duty that may sooner lead to his downfall. Rounding out the group is Rat, an ever-suspicious ghoul torn between life on the surface and his inevitable descent to the feral underground realm of his kind.
In turns, these distinct voices narrate a race to an armageddon none of them saw coming. In probing the reasons that led to their own their own ill-fated failed heist, they uncover the shared secrets and competing machinations of the most powerful factions in Guerdon.
They also encounter a colorful cast of side characters—including a delightfully foul-mouthed saint and a jaded thief-taker—and villains, among them the nightmarish shape-shifters threatening to overrun the city and the alchemical candle-wax security guards standing in their way. (If you’re looking for an imaginative creature feature, you’re in luck!)
The basic architecture of the novel will feel familiar to fantasy fans, but Hanrahan embellishes his creation with his own stylistic flourishes. For starters, without revealing too much of the plot, the story employs an intriguing network of gods and mages that should appeal to fans of Max Gladstone’s intricate Craft Sequence novels, even if the series’ respective brands of fantasy are far removed. The well-wielded magic system mixes and enlivens an imaginative world; that, not to mention the breathless action and a cast of characters worth rooting for, make The Gutter Prayer the nearly irresistible start to a new series.
The post The Gods Are Awake and at War in The Gutter Prayer appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.