Audiobook Review: The Shadow Saint by Gareth Hanrahan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of The Black Iron Legacy
Publisher: Hachette Audio (January 9, 2020)
Length: 19 hours 39 minutes
Narrator: John Banks
Here’s what you need to know about The Shadow Saint: it is the second book of The Black Iron Legacy series by Gareth Hanrahan, but it doesn’t really follow the tradition of a direct sequel. While the story picks up soon after the events of The Gutter Prayer, the focus has mostly shifted to another set of characters, though a lot of familiar faces from the first book return. Not surprisingly, when it comes to these types of sequels, it’s also common for a shift in tone, and indeed we see a little bit of that happening here. Obviously, your experience will differ based on your own personal preferences, but it was because of this shift that I felt The Shadow Saint was not as strong as The Gutter Prayer, which had a plot and themes that suited me better. That said, this was still a good book and a respectable follow-up. It just felt different, which can be either a negative or a positive depending on your tastes.
Also keep in mind that because this is a review to a sequel, it may contain plot details from the previous book, and I recommend being caught up first if you want to avoid any possible spoilers. In the aftermath of the chaotic events at the end of The Gutter Prayer, Guerdon is left in shambles with a power vacuum waiting to be filled. Amidst the lawlessness left by what is now known as the Gutter Miracle, the area has become a neutral haven for all manner of displaced groups, from roving bands of brigands to exiled saints and other magical creatures. In a move to bring some semblance of order back into their lives, residents of the newly created neighborhood known as New City are gearing up for the upcoming election to gain representation in the parliament.
Found in the middle of all this is Eladora Duttin, a returning character from the first book, who is now a political operative for the Industrial Liberal party working on behalf of Kelkin. While Guerdon is in the process of being rebuilt, the city’s many factions are all vying to gain the upper hand while rumors abound of a godswar looming on the horizon. Terevant Erevesic, newly appointed guard captain, is assigned the task of recovering Guerdon’s god bombs, powerful weapons said to be buried beneath the city which would make anyone who controlled them an unstoppable force. Sliding into whatever role is required for him, an unnamed man only known as “The Spy” also adopts the persona of a refugee named Alic Nemon, whose secret agenda will remain shrouded in mystery until such time that the plot chooses to reveal all.
Since Eladora was one of my favorites from the first book, I was excited to discover she was one of the main perspective characters. As a matter of fact, settling in with our new protagonists was certainly not an issue for me. Instead, I had a difficult time developing an interest in the story, which has shifted heavily into the political sphere and focusing on the destabilizing effect of clashing factions. These themes play a big role in The Shadow Saint, and to put it bluntly, they aren’t the most engaging or entertaining of topics, even with the fascinating setting of Guerdon as a backdrop. To be honest, I’d much rather be reading more about the god and the saints, the rich history of the city, its extraordinary cultures and magic and creatures and pretty much everything that made the first book such an eye-opening experience. But it seems Hanrahan had other plans, continuing at length with the comings and goings within a politically charged New City.
If intrigue and machinations are your bag, I think you will love The Shadow Saint. But if you are like me, having loved the world-building and originality from The Gutter Prayer, then you might end up feeling the elements of magic, action, and lore craft in this sequel are lacking. It’s ironic, really, how I felt that the world-building almost overshadowed everything else in the first book, whereas in this one I couldn’t seem to get enough. Thankfully, I think the more time you spend with the book, the easier it is to feel invested, especially once the new characters like Terevant and Alic start giving you more reasons to care about what happens to them. It helps too that the familiar trio of Cari, Spar, and Rat show up for the last section of the book in their various capacities. This development meshes well with the overall crux of the novel, which relates to the impending godswar, culminating in a conclusion that will make you glad you saw things through to the end.
Ultimately, if The Shadow Saint feels like a slight departure from The Gutter Prayer, that’s because it sort of is. Still, that itself is not a complaint; I think it’s refreshing for sequels to be a little different than their predecessors so that we don’t get a repeat of the same old, same old. However, this time around, the narrative was steeped in the politics of this world, and while this may have added a thought-provoking and suspenseful touch to the story, it also made some earlier parts of the book a bit slow and dull. That being said, sooner or later you do get drawn into the plot, but the sloggier, denser sections also meant things took longer to get off the ground. Personally, I thought the first book was better, but this was a solid sequel nonetheless, and I look forward to see where the third installment will take us next.
Audiobook Comments: This was a long audiobook, coming in at nearly twenty hours, and I daresay some of the slower sections would have been more of a struggle to get through had it not been for a fantastic narrator. John Banks’ performance was strong and confident, and I think narrators like him possess a certain timbre and tone in their voices that make them perfectly suited to reading dark gritty fantasy.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Gutter Prayer (Book 1)