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'The Left Hand of God' is a dark, gripping, graphic and at some points a funny book.
This book is centred around a young boy named Thomas Cale. Bought up in a kind of temple where he was made to be a fighter, a tactician but also a hate filled teenager with no remorse.
I guess in that sense, he is much like most teenagers.
I will not go into much detail, as I believe part of the brilliance of this book is reading it for yourself and discovering how the author, Paul Hoffman, can bring such a darkness to life but also mix it with comedic elements.
The story is gripping and you find yourself always thinking you know how Cale will react in certain situation, but then Hoffman surprises you. He keeps you second guessing with his main character and with the story in general, which is something I personally always look for in a book.
However, it is very graphic when it comes to scenes of violence and some readers could be thrown off by this. So if you are not a fan of violence, then this book is not for you.
There is much violence in this, and where there is the detail in which it is described will paint you a clear image in your head. But, for me, that is one of the advantages of these books.
Many writers lately tend to hold back on violence because they don't want to deter an audience but to get truly lost in a book, you need to be able to picture what is happening in your head. This book does that.
My criticism would be that Hoffman tends to use the full name of each character every time they are mentioned and this can become irritating as you know the characters and simply putting their first or last name would suffice.
As far as recommending this book, I would say those who are very keen fantasy book readers and don't mind violence here and there, this is a book you will enjoy.
It has strong characters. It has a good storyline. It has a darkness that is gripping. It has comedy.
For me, that's a good read.
I bought my copy of Paul Hoffman's 'The Left Hand of God' a while ago because the blurb on the back sounded so very intriguing. However, it sat on my 'to be read' bookshelf for an awfully long time because it always seemed to me that I had something I wanted to read more. In the end, I am both regretful and grateful for this, and I hope I can explain why!
The novel focuses around a young man called Thomas Cale. He is an acolyte in The Sanctuary of The Redeemers, a place the narrator immediately tells us "is named after a damned lie, for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary..."
At fourteen years old, Cale doesn't remember any of his life before he was brought to The Sanctuary. It is a place where boys are brought up by Redeemers (who resemble monks to the reader); where there is no love, no forgiveness, and friendship is forbidden. They sleep in barracks of five hundred boys and food is for nutrition only - Cale's typical dinner is gruel and "dead men's feet" - all of the offal and worst parts of the animal ground together with nutrition giving grains. It is rare he can get through a meal without having to control his gag reflex. The boys are being raised to form The Redeemers' army, and this is the only life Cale has ever known.
Things change for Cale. They change when he opens a door.
I won't describe the plot further as to do so would potentially ruin it for someone who doesn't like spoilers. I think it's important however to understand the world in which The Left Hand of God is set. The Sanctuary is a dark and brooding place in which terrible things occur. The boys within its labyrinthine concrete walls are subject to a miserable existence in which they are neither loved nor missed when they are gone. Yet despite this, we readers are introduced to three boys who persevere towards the art of personality: none of them wants to be the thoughtless drones The Redeemers intend to create. They all fight in small ways to be themselves.
Cale is the main protagonist. He is strong and exceptionally talented militarily: we learn of his unsurpassed skills quickly. In no way is Cale a 'Mary Sue' character. He is not perfect; everything does not go his way. He is a product of his environment and his early years' development underneath the iron fist of The Redeemers will always have an impact on his character. At the same time that he is stalwart and brave, he is a thief and is detached from others. These contrasts in his characterisation make him incredibly appealing and it is hard not to be drawn into his world.
Supporting Cale are two other boys from The Sanctuary. Vague Henri is the closest thing that Cale has to a friend, but in reality they are barely acquaintances. He is very astute and observant of the world around them, and proves himself invaluable to Cale. He is witty and clever and his word games provide many chuckle-worthy moments throughout the novel, for both Cale who watches silently and for us as we read along.
Kleist is the third of the main trio and he represents the less willing of them all. He is outside of Cale and Vague Henri's (very tentative!) bond and he feels that very keenly. Accordingly he looks after his own interests first, and unashamedly at that.
This novel is appealing in many ways. The writing is thoughtful and provocative, but it never loses its humorous edge. Hoffman's approach to description is detailed and personal: the narrator is not Cale or Vague Henri nor Kleist. Indeed the narrator is no-one within the story but nevertheless is almost a character on its own. As The Left Hand of God is the first of a trilogy, perhaps it time we will see that the narrator is in fact a character within the plot but I personally hope that this doesn't happen. This kind of narrator is new to me, and it's fresh. I like hearing a personality behind the words rather than just a drab voice simply relaying a story.
There are many aspects of Hoffman's world which we readers are supposed to identify with parts of our own. We are supposed to connect The Redeemers and their One True Faith to fanatic Christians. Their iconography of the 'Hanged Redeemer' is a parallel to Christ on the cross. The Lord Redeemers are representations of violent Christian monks who worship the Hanged Reedemer, a man who was born of a pure woman. For centuries The Redeemers have been engaged in a ceaseless war against The Antagonists, heretic believers whose faith seems similar but different enough to go to war about. The similarities are too obvious to be dismissed and yet they leave the reader somewhat uncomfortable. The representation of The Redeemers as brutal and cold, excessive and selfish is at times almost parody. I found myself amused at one point where Cale was punished for vanity - he was told to do a hand stand while he 'classmates' did push-ups. Cale misunderstood and did push-ups whilst balanced upright. This feels wrong because of the connection that Hoffman makes between The Redeemers and Catholicism - and yet it is written to be amusing.
Yet to add in some confusion, along with this representation of the Redeemers as fanatic Catholics [my perception], characters do at one point make reference to Jesus Christ. It is made clear that Hoffman is not describing Christians. This just jars, and it feels like a "get out of jail free" clause to put paid to any complaints before they happen. It is my fervent wish that Hoffman just had faith in his ability to write. He could so easily have created a caste of religious fanatics that didn't so heavily rely on the reader's own perceptions. It feels a little like lazy writing that he has given us all of these clues about what to connect The Redeemers with in our own experience, and then panicked about the similarities enough to go "but look, Jesus is mentioned in this story in another context; I CAN'T be talking about radical Christians after all!"
There are many other ways that Hoffman connects his fantasy world to our world. For example; place names. Featured in the novel are Memphis and York - both rather generic names that could be situated anywhere but nevertheless evoke a sense of ownership to both Americans and the British. It allows us to connect his story's landscape with the world that we see every day and again strikes me as somewhat lazy. If you want to create a world? Create it. Borrow from the real world of course, what you write has to be recognisable but not claimable. Further to this is the fact that the currency in Cale's world is dollars and reference is made to "the Jews" (who, by the way, live in ghettos within cities - who wouldn't recognise that?) and to "the Norweigens." These connections to real life juxtapose everything that Hoffman achieved with the first part of his novel; the creation of a whole new world.
My criticisms aside, please don't let it be forgotten that the author is a terrific writer. Cale's world comes to life within your imagination - and this is not due to (perhaps it is in spite of) Hoffman's unimaginative connections to our own world. Cale himself is a fantastic character. He is deep and tumultuous, and his story has a long way to go.
As I said at the beginning of this review, it took me a while to get to reading this novel and for that it turns out that I am both regretful and grateful. I am regretful because I loved it. I think Hoffman has given us a fantastic read and now that I know it is the first of a trilogy I am excited to see where he takes us. The ending (no spoilers!) was somewhat of a surprise for me and I look forward to following the fantastic Thomas Cale through the next section of his life. I wish I had read it sooner!
On the other hand, I am grateful...because I loved it! Although I had to wait a while to read The Left Hand of God, the wait was painless as I didn't know what I was missing. Now I am grateful as the time between my finishing the first novel and reading the second is going to be short and sweet: The Last Four Things (Novel 2) is out on the 28th April 2011. I very much suspect that the wait between Novel 2 and 3 is going to hurt a whole lot more.
For any who are intrigued by my review, the first chapter of The Left Hand of God can be read at the author's website. Please see the link below.
For those who have read The Left Hand of God and would like to read an excerpt from The Last Four Things, this is also available at the above website. (Go to 'Books' and then scroll down to the appropriate place.)
I was sent 'The Left Hand Of God' by Paul Hoffman free of charge from the publisher (Penguin Books) because they wanted me to read and review it for them. It's taken a while but I've finally got around to it!
However if you want to buy it the RRP for the large paperback is £12.99 or you can buy it for as little as £4.60 from Amazon.co.uk (ISBN 978-0141042374) although the cover is slightly different to the one pictured here on Dooyoo.
The book focuses around a character called Thomas Cale; he arrived at The Sanctuary as a young boy and knows no other way of life. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a horrible place: it's a like a huge monastery but all of the Redeemers (monks) are violent and cruel towards the boys to force them to believe their doctrine and to prepare them to fight in the war against the Antagonists.
Cale and two other boys manage to escape but the Redeemers desperately want Cale back and will do anything to get him. They make across the arid Scablands to the corrupt city of Memphis but the Redeemers won't give up without a fight...or even war!
I really enjoyed this book; I found a dark humour to the story which softened the harshness of the boys' experiences. I found myself liking the central characters and wanting them to succeed. Hoffman gives some insight into their thoughts and feelings but not too much so you still end up feeling intrigued, especially about the mysterious Cale.
There's mystery, plenty of action and even some romance in this story. I'm not keen on love stories but Hoffman manages write about the relationships without it seeming overly soppy. There are a few parts that are not for the squeamish!
The plot contains some twists, a few were expected but that didn't spoil my enjoyment. It leaves quite a few unanswered questions and the ending was left in a "to be continued" style which is why it only gets four stars; it really annoys me when authors leave you wanting more. The copy of the book I have says nothing about a sequel but I've done a bit of online research and it turns out this story is going to be a trilogy, the next book is titled 'The Last Four Things' and is out in January 2011. I'll definitely be reading the next one to find out what happens next!
Here's what the blurb says:
"'Listen. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is named after a damned lie for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary.' The Sanctuary of the Redeemers: vast, desolate, hopeless. Where children endure brutal cruelty and violence in the name of the One True Faith. Lost in the Sanctuary's huge maze of corridors is a boy: his age uncertain, his real name unknown. They call him Cale. He is strange and secretive, witty and charming - and violent. But when he opens the wrong door at the wrong time he witnesses an act so horrible he must flee, or die. The Redeemers will go to any lengths to get Cale back. Not because of the secret he has discovered. But because of a more terrifying secret that lies undiscovered in himself."