One of the most hyped releases of early 2010, The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman was a bit of a mitigating read. Occasionally very entertaining while at other times just plain bad, it really did arouse mixed feelings for me. It was published in January in the UK, with a planned June release for the US, by Penguin for a young adult public (though no one is actually knows who it was intended to be read by), and it did, to its credit, keep me reading all the way through the end.
Blurb: The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a vast and desolate place—a place without joy or hope. Most of its occupants were taken there as boys and for years have endured the brutal regime of the Lord Redeemers whose cruelty and violence have one singular purpose—to serve in the name of the One True Faith. In one of the Sanctuary’s vast and twisting maze of corridors stands a boy. He is perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old—he is not sure and neither is anyone else. He has long-forgotten his real name, but now they call him Thomas Cale. He is strange and secretive, witty and charming, violent and profoundly bloody-minded. He is so used to the cruelty that he seems immune, but soon he will open the wrong door at the wrong time and witness an act so terrible that he will have to leave this place, or die. His only hope of survival is to escape across the arid Scablands to Memphis, a city the opposite of the Sanctuary in every way: breathtakingly beautiful, infinitely Godless, and deeply corrupt. BU the Redeemers want Cale back at any price…not because of the secret he now knows but because of a much more terrifying secret he does not.
The Left hand of God is full of inconsistencies. These inconsistencies are present everywhere—in character behavior, in the structure of the world, etc. Perhaps the greatest inconsistency of all is the world the Hoffman has “built”, if you can even call it that. At times he takes us completely out of the real world and into what he has created (though some of things like the Materazzi are obviously of Italian influence) but he very often makes jarringly obvious references to real world things. It may not help that a lot of the places are named after real world towns and cities (York, Memphis) but he sometimes makes passing and random reference to things like Jews, Dutchmen, Norwegians and the Middle East. I know, random right? Not only are these irrelevant to the overall plot, they immediately pulled me out of the story. I can see that the author is trying to be mysterious and somewhat confuse the reader but top hats and bowler hats from people still wearing armor, really? Not to mention probably the most striking inconsistency: the mention of an ice cream parlor in a medieval-type setting.
As for the characters, I’ve already mentioned that their behavior is inconsistent but they are also extremely shallow. It’s annoying enough when a character acts out of character (that kind of sounds weird I know…) but it’s even worse when it feels that a character does something really stupid or reacts shallowly (as in this reaction is sudden and undeveloped) just because the author couldn’t figure out another way to have a similar impact on the story or develop that reaction more. Not to mention that the main characters, Cale, Keist and Vague Henri, all about 14-15 years old behave as 25-30 year olds. That is sort of explained (at least for Cale) by their harsh childhood in the Sanctuary having lead to early maturity but the way it was written never quite cut it for me. This, I guess, can sort of be related to the “is this YA, is it not?” question as when the characters are behaving naively and age-appropriate the books feels like YA but when, for example, Cale and Arbell are having sex (though only vaguely referred to/described) it has a distinctly older feel to it.
All that being said—and what I’ve said does sound quite bad up to now—I did read The Left Hand of God and I was intrigued, and dare I say, captivated at certain moments by the story. It wouldn’t be so bad a story with some revisions of certain elements (taking out those random references for instance) and if the faults weren’t so obvious. It’s not so bad is you consider that this is essentially Hoffman’s debut since his other two novels weren’t at all in the fantasy genre from what I’ve read. I’ll also have to wait for the sequels and see if these problems are fixed and the aspects of the story that need developing are developed to pass a final judgment on Hoffman’s fantasy writing.
A book to read if you’d like to find out what all the hype is about or if you want to give it a tentative try. Who knows, you might like it, especially since apparently opinions on this book seem to diverge fundamentally into either like or dislike groups. As for myself, I found this to be in truth, a truly mediocre read. However, I will most likely be picking up the sequel (for which there is remarkably little info for on the web), if only to compare it to The Left Hand of God.
My Rating: 2 out of 5
Reading Age: Once again, unsure of who it’s aimed at, but I’d say that 15 and up are safe to read
Paul Hoffman's Website: None that I could easily find, if you find it please tell me...
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