Review of The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

A group of three young thieves are pulled into a centuries old magical war between ancient beings, mages, and humanity in this wildly original debut epic fantasy.
The city has always been. The city must finally end. When three thieves – an orphan, a ghoul, and a cursed man – are betrayed by the master of the thieves guild, their quest for revenge uncovers dark truths about their city and exposes a dangerous conspiracy, the seeds of which were sown long before they were born.
Cari is a drifter whose past and future are darker than she can know. Rat is a Ghoul, whose people haunt the city’s underworld. Spar is a Stone Man, subject to a terrible disease that is slowly petrifying his flesh. Chance has brought them together, but their friendship could be all that stands in the way of total armageddon.

Do you ever get that feeling that when you buy a book off the back of a ton of 5 star reviews and then you wonder if in fact you read the same book as everyone else? That’s what I got with The Gutter Prayer. This was really sad as it was a book that I was so excited to read but I was left feeling underwhelmed at times and more than a little confused.

Firstly though I have to admit that there were some amazing parts of this book, the characters really made the piece for me and a vibrant world was created within the limited confines of the city itself. The author shows fervent imagination with the creation of the fantastical creatures within the pages. The terrifying Tallowmen, extreme peace keepers created from lives that have been lost and remade in vats powered by wick and flame, they are unstoppable and frightening. The Ravellers as well paint a gruesome scene, consuming and unforgiving, the two create a formidable foe to run alongside the usual wheelers and dealers or gutter life. Our protagonists are many and morally grey, some that feel initially throwaway actually have a large part to play, which was great for keeping me guessing although it did make it harder to decide which of the characters to fully invest in. Stand outs were Spar the stone man, I found the depiction of his plague to be well thought out and explanation of it’s toll deeply saddening. Rat the Ghoul was incredibly complex and I felt the Ghoul hierachy was fascinating, with Rat’s sense of morality a nice juxtaposition. Sweary Aleena was a breath of fresh air in her no nonsense approach and her stab now worry later attitude. Eladora and Cari felt pitted against one another and actually for me, goody two shoes Eladora actually came out on top, I felt her development had the best arc overall.

Unfortunately the writing felt muddled and struggled with maintaining pace and flow, there were glaring continuity issues which totally pulled me from the story and there were many times when I had to go back and reread passages to get my head round what had happened. I felt like many climactic moments didn’t reach their full potential and a few times we were diverted from the main action which was a shame. The main climax was all crammed into the final chapter too which honestly left my head spinning. Because of the volume of characters I felt that not everyone got the time they deserved, there were so many amazing ideas but none really had enough time on the page to allow for them to gain their full potential. The story was a little predicable at times and it honestly didn’t need the addition of sex. If it serves no purpose then don’t bother, that dynamic would have been the same without it and it was as awkward to read as it probably was for the author to write it.

Whilst The Gutter Prayer creates an interesting fantasy world, with many unique elements and touch of steampunk thrown in, it falls down from having too many ideas to contain within it’s pages. What we are left with are half explained concepts and situations fizzling out off page which could have been rectified with more focus. There are some brilliant moments though and they do really stand out like beacons as they are fully formed set pieces. The characters are both endearing and chilling and for me they are what brings this review up to a 3*

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