Review: The Shadow Saint
Potential. Potential. Potential.
This was my mantra after having read the first book in this series, THE GUTTER PRAYER. In what ended up being the most influential ways, that single repeated word kept me from picking up this second book in the series for quite some time. Then I came across a picture of Rob J. Hayes (EBR Archive) on Twitter where he was reading a copy of this book… and for some reason, I couldn’t get the freaking thing out of my head. Something about the way he was looking at its open pages almost haunted my reader brain. Thus, when I came across an announcement that the third in the series had an upcoming release date (yesterday, as it happens), I bit the bullet and bought all three. I just couldn’t help myself.
And, man, am I glad I did.
THE SHADOW SAINT is the second in what appears to be a planned five-book series revolving around the city of Guerdon and its inhabitants. The first book told the story of a group of thieves that get caught up in the inner workings of the city and the devious machinations of those seeking the power of the gods. It ended in a bang-up maelstrom of a climax that left me both suitably impressed… and more than slightly confused. If you haven’t read my review of that one yet, go check it out first. Odds are there are going to be some spoilers for that one here, and though I had my issues with that one, it’s definitely foundational to understand what’s going on here. Especially because there’s a major shift in characters.
Eladora Duttin is the cousin of Carrilon Thay and very likely the least likely character I would have ever chosen to lead such a story. Now that her university professor and tutor is gone, she’s attached herself to Effro Kelkin, the temporary political leader of the city of Guerdon after the catastrophic events surrounding the attempted raising of the Black Iron Gods. She, Kelkin, and those in power are driving the political scene toward a general election to solidify the leadership of the city quickly before any of the powerful Gods wreaking havoc elsewhere in the world can smell blood in the water and weakness at the shore.
Terevant Erevesic is the second son of one of the more powerful families in the nation of Haith and he’s an utter shambles. Having failed miserably as a soldier for which he may be prosecuted, and ever pining for the affection of his sister-in-law, he spends most of his time drunk off his rocker. He’s tasked with bringing his family’s greatest weapon, the vessel containing all the souls of his dead ancestors, the Sword Erevesic, to his older brother, Olthic, who has recently been inserted as the Haithi ambassador to Guerdon. He’s brought into the city with the help of his sister-in-law, Lys, but has to leave the sword with her or risk losing it to those protecting the city from invasion. Olthic is not happy.
The Spy, who not only answers to many names, but contains the character and motivations of each of his covers and switches between them at will, has been dispatched from the mighty nation of Ishmere, one of the major players in the Godswar that is raging across the world. He has come to the city, before those that would invade, to see if the rumors of the godbombs, the first mortal weapon created with the strength to kill a god, are true. He’s brought with him a young boy, a saint of Fate Spider, one of the gods of Ishmere, that can speak with those that are coming.
As a general rule, I’m not a particularly large fan of political books, and this story started largely as a political one. Eladora drives that part of the story as we learn what the fallout of “The Crisis” was, which came with the climax of GUTTER PRAYER. Despite the fact that Eladora was one of the more annoying characters of the previous novel for me, the author does a really good job of making her a sympathetic character here that I enjoyed reading. I think I most enjoyed reading Terevant at the beginning, although all three main characters are really well drawn. From their histories to their motivations to the complicated issues surrounding each of them, their stories are each intimate and personal, and yet they weave into the larger tapestry of the main plot — to find and obtain the power of the godbombs and/or control of the city — in a very natural way. The focus that this book employs on these three main character of interest made the story much more enjoyable for me than the first in the series. Even if the spy was a little odd, he was odd in a compelling way, which made me happy to see. Along the way, each of them bring out the interesting pieces of the larger societal structures that surround them, and make for unique and enjoyable perspectives through the entirety of the book, despite the fact that they eventually all start to come together as they story progresses. Very well done.
As with GUTTER PRAYER, the amount of imagination and complexity that Hanrahan has poured into this story is staggeringly impressive. He manages to handle of all these various pieces and how they affect the world at large in fascinating and surprising ways. I especially liked some of the pieces that he brought in late in the story, with the mixing of technology and the sorcerous powers that are so prominent in this world, as the Godswar approaches the city. This tale is rife with description and fullness. The prose can be pretty dense at times. I love that kind of writing though, when the words on the written page can absorb me and pull me in, making me believe. It doesn’t give me the chance for my thoughts to wander, but pulls me in with hit after literal hit.
With its imaginative prowess in overdrive, THE SHADOW SAINT tells the fully immersive tale of a city under siege by both gods and man.
The three characters from the first book do play a part in the story, although only secondarily. Cari has a few POV chapters that didn’t really feel necessary to me, but she has plenty of interaction with her cousin as things start to go pear shaped. Rat, now an Elder Ghoul, makes several appearances, most of which made me laugh because of the constant shock and surprise characters show at having him use their voices to communicate. Spar, only makes a very minimal appearance, as the essence of who he was became the bulk of what is known as the New City, and only interfaces with Cari as she strives to keep order in the best ways she knows how. In some ways, I think this transition to new characters was a good thing. It’ll be interesting to see what direction the author moves in the next book, as two of the three finish this story in ways that make me think they won’t be progressing on in the larger story as POV characters.
When I finished reading GUTTER PRAYER, I was of the opinion that Hanrahan absolutely had the ability to start knocking stories out of the park. Now, at the tail end of this reading experience, I can say that he has. This book is fabulous. So much goodness in this story. Now, I’m super excited to dive into the next one. In fact, I just received my copy today. Sitting on my shelf right now. Calling to me from down the hall.
And ohhh do I ever want to listen to those pages sing.
- Recommended Age: 15+
- Language: Strong and semi-frequent
- Violence: Gets relatively violent, but not much gore
- Sex: A few mild references