Book Review: The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan (The Black Iron Legacy #1)

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Rating:  ★★

Blurb from GoodReads: 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 rest of the blurb can be read here.)

I think this will be one of the books that ended up disappointing me the most this year.  I was so ready for a grimdark Six of Crows, grittier, bloodier, more desperate.  As you can see my expectation of the book didn’t really line up with the blurb.  I add stuff to my TBR and pick it up weeks later without ever reading the blurb, which is why it wasn’t what I was expecting.

This was mildly disappointing, but I could have adjusted easily enough if I had been told a good story.  At the end of the day, that’s all I really care about, that I’m being entertained.

Are you not entertained gif

Well no, Maximus.  As a matter of fact, I wasn’t entertained.

I have so many issues I don’t even really know where to begin. I’m baffled this went to print this way. It feels unfinished- like a second draft with most of the proofreading errors taken out. I found multiple typos, inconsistencies in the way words were spelled, characters popping into scenes where they shouldn’t be. One time I think Rat was called Spar and then went right back to being Rat, and another one Miren popped up when he should have been Haden (even better Miren was all the way across town, and the scene he wasn’t supposed to be in was sandwiched between two other Miren scenes.  Imagine my confusion at him being in two places at once). This is not confusing because it’s complex, it’s confusing because it’s poorly edited. I actually had to stop at one point and double check that it wasn’t self published. I’ve read self-published books with fewer errors. Not sure what Orbit was thinking.

The plot was a cool concept poorly executed. For centuries across this steampunkish land, the gods have been battling each other- dragging Mortals down into their fights. Not sure why gods need mortals to fight for them, or even why they are fighting, but Guerdon’s gods are kept in check. Now someone wants to free them.

My issue with the execution is two fold. The first issue I have is that no one’s motivations make any sense. **SPOILERS** The alchemists want to melt down the Black Iron Gods (imprisoned in bells) and use them to make “god bombs” to stop the war and prevent them from coming back. Everyone agrees the Black Iron Gods are bad, yet everyone is also fighting the alchemists… why? I understand it will also kill the kept gods but as far as I can tell they aren’t doing a whole lot for anyone, and the kept gods end up dying anyway… wouldn’t it have been easier just to let the alchemists do it? Or to help them? **END SPOILERS**

The second part of my upset with the execution comes from the fact that this is largely a metaphysical tale. I say Godswar and you’re thinking a war of titanic proportions right? Buildings crumbling, swords flying, heroes and villains.

Wrong. Mostly it’s someone having an out of body experience and observing everything from a distance. It was incredibly boring. This is largely personal preference but I like the up close and personal battle scenes. There were none to be had. Aleena comes close with her more physical abilities and her sainthood and flaming sword, but a lot of the action scenes fade to black in some misguided attempt to build suspense into the plot. There isn’t any.

The book is so hung up in its own world building, in its pages upon pages of raptequine horses and Tallowmen and alchemical weapons that it forgot to describe the action. Don’t get me wrong- the world building was very cool. It had lots of fun elements that felt unique. But it wasn’t enough to keep me engaged and wanting more.

There are some really odd sex scenes thrown in that one of the MCs constantly thinks about afterwards, that destroyed her character in its entirety. They were bizarre and so out of left field any mention of them immediately withdrew me from the story. They detracted from the MCs character and took her from feeling whole to feeling flimsy. Especially when the partner is described as inexperienced and clumsy in the very first line of their hookup.  It was very painfully obvious at that point, that she had been written by a man.  If the two characters had been in love, it might have been acceptable.  If there had even been a few lines introducing their attraction for each other, it might have been acceptable.  The way it’s told here, I suspect will ring incredibly false to most women.

Rat’s character and Jere’s character largely feel useless. Characters were killed that pop backup in the epilogue, apparently alive and well. In the beginning there are references to ongoing riots that are never witnessed.

I thought it was supposed to be grimdark but it felt more like New Adult to me. Cari carries around a “knife” she barely uses.  When she does use it, it feels pretty lame.  Cari slashed at the grotesque monster tentacles with her knife.  What exactly were you expecting to come of that Cari?  You don’t kill god-monsters with a knife.  I just wanted it to be more.  If you’re going to write a sex scene- really write a sex scene.  If you’re going to make it bloody, make it gory.  I know I probably have unreasonable expectations when it comes to this, Constant Reader that I am, but when you sell me something as grimdark those are the expectations that come with it.

I feel bad writing this because I wanted to love it. If it had been edited properly and dropped 200 pages of world building and description and a couple POVs I might have… but for now I just don’t have many nice things to say about it and I can’t recommend it. Maybe an update from Orbit can fix the kindle version, but unfortunately for the hardback I guess it’s too late.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan (The Black Iron Legacy #1)

    • I have a feeling I will be in the minority on this one. A lot of my very trusted reading friends loved it! I think a lot of it came down to personal preference, I wanted more battle and less visions. But I agree if the length had been trimmed down I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.

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  1. I love that Maximus GIF every time I see it lol. And wow the editing (or lack thereof) sounds horrible! Sounds like they definitely rushed this one out or something. Also a grimdark Six of crows does sound pretty fabulous, but I can tell from your review that I probably wouldn’t like this. I usually like the gods to be “gods”. you know, not enmeshed in human affairs so much that they’re imprisoned, killable, etc. But that may just be me. This is good to know though, I’ll save myself some frustration with this one haha!

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    • Yeah- I seem to be the only one who has mentioned it so far- so towards the end I started highlighting passages so I could know I wasn’t crazy. For example: “Thieves he’s know all his life,” should be known all his life, or “She looks him at him with despairing eyes,” clearly something wrong there. I’m surprised I’m the only one that mentioned it. And that’s just two examples. My copy came from the library so I don’t know if it was defective somehow. It was just strange.

      To be fair to these gods, they were very difficult and to kill and imprison. My issue was that I wasn’t ever really sure why the gods were fighting in the first place? Or why they needed mortals to do it? It just didn’t make any sense to me.

      I will also add that I’ve had a terrible run of books this year, so I may have been overly critical, but for this book I didn’t think so. If you find a grimdark six of crows please share the title with me because I would love that!

      (And Maximus is the best!)

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