Quick Review: THE GUTTER PRAYER by Gareth Hanrahan (Orbit)

HanrahanG-1-GutterPrayerOne of the most talked-about debuts of 2019

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.

Enter a city of saints and thieves…

The city of Guerdon stands eternal. A refuge from the war that rages beyond its borders. But in the ancient tunnels deep beneath its streets, a malevolent power has begun to stir.

The fate of the city rests in the hands of three thieves. They alone stand against the coming darkness. As conspiracies unfold and secrets are revealed, their friendship will be tested to the limit. If they fail, all will be lost, and the streets of Guerdon will run with blood.

The Gutter Prayer has been showered with praise pre-publication. After reading it, I can certainly see why: it is one of the most inventive new fantasies I’ve read in a while. The novel is packed full of ideas, multiple unique and innovative twists on popular fantasy elements, and an overall interesting and action-packed story. There’s a lot to like in here, and I’m sure many readers will love this novel.

I had a lot of different, sometimes contradictory reactions to this novel.

There were times when I was genuinely surprised and delighted by the way Hanrahan has approached the genre and certain popular tropes and ideas: for example, the space that ghouls occupy in this world. Additionally, some of his innovations are genuinely awesome and/or chilling: the Tallowmen, the Black Iron Gods, the Crawling Ones, the Stone Men, and many others. The ways in which gods are presented, operate in and interact with this world is likewise fascinating and very interesting. So many others: this is, most of all, a novel that is just brimming with interesting and fascinating ideas.

While this is the novel’s strength, it is also its weakness: it seems, at times, to be far more interested in the ideas than the story. Sometimes, interesting narrative tricks are used to provide alternative perspectives on the action and key events of the story. However, when these tricks are reused multiple times, one can’t help but wish it wasn’t used. The introduction, for example, was awesome, and made me committed to the world and story. However, this commitment waned. There was a certain remove from important events that threw me out of the story a bit. Hanrahan describes brilliantly — whether the world, creepy creatures/monsters, locales, or atmospheres, he is great. It never felt like info-dumping.

At the same time, though, it felt like far more time was spent on world-building than on character development and story. These are the two most important things for me in any fiction (SFFH or otherwise). I therefore didn’t develop much attachment to the characters. Sometimes I just wanted to story to get moving (the plot only really kicks in about 25% into the novel). I wasn’t as gripped as I’d hoped, and a couple of times I became impatient. Sometimes the characters blended together, and a couple of times I had to read back because I zoned out. (I’ll admit that I was quite tired and distracted at the time, but even with the re-reads I wasn’t always wholly-invested or engrossed in the story.) It felt like not as much happened as would justify the length of the novel, if that makes sense — it seems overly critical to write this, because a fair amount does happen. But at the novel also didn’t feel as focused or streamlined as it could (maybe should?) have been.

If you’re looking for an inventive, fascinating new fantasy world, then The Gutter Prayer will suit perfectly. I would have liked more focus on the characters and plot, but I’m intrigued enough to look forward to the second instalment of the series. I know a lot of people who have, or will enjoy this novel. If you’re a fantasy fan, then I would certainly recommend you give this a try: you’re bound to find something that you like, even if (as for me) it doesn’t completely work for you. I imagine this will appeal to fans of Scott Lynch, Robin Hobb, Joe Abercrombie and many others of that ilk.


The Gutter Prayer is due to be published by Orbit Books in North America (January 22nd) and in the UK (January 15th).

Check back next week for an interview with the author.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

3 thoughts on “Quick Review: THE GUTTER PRAYER by Gareth Hanrahan (Orbit)

  1. I just finished this and have been working on my review, which contains some similar reaction to yours. Definitely had issues with some of the perspective choices, particularly the 2nd person perspective in the prologue. It’s still a good book, but not without some stylistic/editorial issues that I hope get smoothed out in book 2.

    Liked by 1 person

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