“The Gutter Prayer” a new Fantasy novel from Cork-dwelling Gareth Harahan, pushes to break the mold and make a permanent position in Irish fiction
Fantasy fiction is a tough genre from the outset. It isn't especially well regarded by the literary fiction readers, despite that the genre (including science fiction) has been pushing the boundaries and opening conversations that mainstream fiction took years to break into. In Ireland, it has even less of a foothold, with individual book stores serving as flash points in which the majority of these genre sales go.
Going further than this, if one was to look at the recent publications within the genre in Ireland, you will find that the majority of the works end up classified as Young Adult/Teen or even 8 - 12 market. Also, fantasy produced in Ireland has a tendency to base itself in Irish legend, which, while being the genuine origin of much of the genre as it is; can turn off readers who are more inclined to read American or British fantasy. It as if the industry believes that there is no market in Ireland for fresh Adult Fantasy, which is a gross misconception, and speaks more to the level of representation within stores. With mega-series like Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time taking up so much space on the shelf, it can be hard for bookshops to risk taking a chance on a new, unknown author, even more so if it means sacrificing crucial space, in a section where the books tend to be large, on something that might not sell.
These are the reasons we should all be very impressed with the work of Gareth Hanrahan. Already an accomplished video game designer, he has also written countless reviews of books and video games (the little sister of the fantasy genre in many ways). This experience has influenced his fiction in all the best ways. Modern fantasy has an added element of action and scope of vision that sits more at home in a playable (not always virtual) world a person can envelop themselves in, and it is a very hard task to capture that sensation between the bindings of a book. But that's exactly what Hanrahan does.
He doesn't try to cram as much in as possible, as some genre authors might try. Instead, we are led through a story, in which the epic and vast backdrop is visible, but only when it becomes relevant to the plot can you make out more than outlines. At no point do you doubt that the world is there, and that our characters actually are living in it.
As most novels of this size do, it focuses on a number of characters, in varying positions across the “good” and “bad” side, and it is here that Hanrahan is perhaps at his most daring. The three protagonists are a runaway noble woman, long ago turned thief and privateer. The son of an executed philosopher (and former head of the Thieves' Guild) that is suffering from a debilitating and fatal disease. And a “ghoul” a subterranean dwelling, sentient creature, who possesses an innate drive to feast on dead human flesh, something he does his best to resist, despite the act being totally permissible for his species; even by the humans who live above.
This eclectic array of people are friends who within the first few pages are betrayed and separated, forced to make their own way in a city that is on the cusp of tearing itself apart. Their home, a neutral city state in a world ravaged by a terrifying war, gets by selling weapons to both sides, but soon this delicate balance is about to be shattered, and it isn't always clear if the people doing the shattering are truly in the wrong.
It is Gothic Fantasy with a tilt towards the Epic, laying the ground work for a world that readers are sure to want to revisit. For video games fans, its Bloodborne with a functioning society, and any genre fan will find themselves enthralled by the living nature of the world, and the expertly twisting plot, mixing the expected with the unexpected to always keep you on your toes.
Hanrahan brings a new voice to our shelves and hopefully will set the tone for aspiring Irish Fantasy authors to make a fresh start for the genre within the Adult Fiction market.