The Left Hand of God is one of a few books gaining quite a bit of buzz or hype as the next best Epic Fantasy. Some believe when a book is "hyped" it had better be one of best books written that year if not in a few years. To me that is a bit of a misnomer as hype is really all about what publishers think the general public will key into the most, which does not always denote top quality prose but more of a story that grabs readers. For example The Windup Girl is a book that deserves hype, but one most of general reading public would find off putting because of its stark realism. While The Left and of God will pull you in from the opening pages if the style hits you right as it did with me. It is a very morose and deeply brutal, but had me staying up late just to get a few more chapters in. This is why I think it is deserving of the "hype" it has gotten thus far. I was most reminded of Brent Weeks's Night Angel series although with a much smaller cast and not as detailed of a world. That is not to say The Left Hand of God is not without its problems, which I'll go into.
Told in an almost Thriller like fashion with short sentences and short cliff-hanger chapters Hoffman has concocted the story of young acolyte Thomas Cale in service to The Redeemers who have raised him since he was 4 or so. Cale flips between been quixotic and all too reserved. But nothing feels quite right about Cale, but nor should it. He is an anomaly. A boy who has never been shown any kindness in his upbringing and whenever he did well was punished for it.
The Redeemers are followers of The Hanged Redeemer. Kind of like a Christ-like figure only more mysterious. Basically Redeemers seem like a much screwed up version of Christianity. Think Inquisition times without trials. The Redeemers are one of the most zealous religious groups I've encountered in years nearly beating out the Khalidorians of the Night Angel Trilogy in their cruelty and wanton dismissiveness of other groups. Cale had been singled out by one of its leaders for his special abilities and escaped their clutches after many years as a teenager. Thus ensues the elevation of Cale into world politics because of his skills and knowledge. Cale is accompanied by two other acolytes, who didn't get nearly enough page time as they enliven the story despite the sullen and disconnected Cale. Another standout character is the mysterious IdrisPukke who is a sort of mentor to Cale and brings to mind a cross of Durzo Blint and Nicomo Cosca.
The setting is an alternative Earth with no magic to speak of, where religions and factions took far different turns more than a thousand years ago. There are scant mentions of Jesus, Rabbis, and references to Norway and other countries. Plus the main city involved is named Memphis. I'm still puzzling out exactly where the story is taking place, but it is most likely Europe and Memphis may be the city in Egypt although this is all far from clear. The technology is that of medieval times, but it also feels strangely more advanced because of some of the garb worn and other references.
Some of the bad: The characters are a bit overly terse to nearly everyone whether it be friend to foe or daughter to father. I couldn't find Cale likeable, but I did care what happened to him despite this. The love story didn't feel right even after all the heroics gone through to ensure the parties willingness. A few of the fight scenes were a bit confusing at times where I found myself re-reading sections to make sure I understood precisely what was going on. The ending was all too abrupt, but the big battle scene that precedes was quite unexpected. By the end we learn what it is that makes Cale so damn important that different groups are willing to fight a war over him.
Even with all the flaws The Left Hand of God is an unrepentantly evil yet enjoyable book for those into the darker side of Epic Fantasy that kept me thinking about it long after I finished. There are many questions unanswered that left me eager to get to the next volume to learn more about this world and its secrets. As of right now I'd be surprised if this made it into my year end best, but there is enough good to recommend it. I give The Left Hand of God 7.25 out of 10 Hats. We only get a glimpse of two major factions in a much broader world of cultures so there should be much to be revealed in the further volumes. The question is does Hoffman go bigger and better from here? Penguin UK has put up a 36 page sample for the book, which definitely gives you a good flavor of whether this is a book for you.
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