A decent finish to the trilogy.
The Beating of His Wings is the third and final instalment in Paul Hoffman's Left Hand of God trilogy, which is preceded by The Last Four Things, a book I reviewed only last week, and The Left Hand of God. Looking back at my review of The Last Four Things I have realised that I have been extremely tough on it, arguably giving it a far more negative review than it deserved. The reason for this is that the first book hooked me immediately and I found it so good that my expectations for what was to come reached possibly unobtainable heights. And, as readers, once our expectations are this high then heaven help the poor author that fails to meet them. Just ask John Steinbeck, George Lucas and M. Night Shyamalan.
When I began reading The Beating of His Wings I did so with the very best of intentions, sincerely hoping that the trilogy would end on a high. But things started off badly with a real "What the f**k?" preface which came across as aggressive, smug and ridiculous. And when you've been having serious issues with the series, worrying that it may be irreversibly declining, this was possibly the last thing I wanted to read. It was bizarre and its meaning obscure. Was it a thinly-veiled swipe at critics and those who do not "get" his work? Or was it simply a understandable defence against unfair criticism? One guess might be that it was a case of the author becoming firmly ensconced up his own arse and trying to be too clever and this impression was not helped by Hoffman seemingly doing a poor Douglas Adams impression in his attempt to get his point across, whatever that might have been.
It was not the best of starts and the "lucky" reader is also able to benefit from more of the same as the book ends. Thankfully the book does start really well, with a sense of purpose and the time we spend with Cale at the "asylum" was a return to form with some wonderful new characters which sadly only played a minor role in the book's remainder. The coldness that I had begun to feel towards the trilogy began to dissipate and I warmed once again to the three boys. Both the second and third books are good at helping readers who have experienced a gap between instalments with catching up on proceedings and here is a quick recap of what has gone before: Since discovering that his brutal military training has been for one purpose - to destroy God's greatest mistake, mankind itself - Cale has been hunted by the very man who made him into the Angel of Death: Pope Redeemer Bosco. Cale is a paradox: arrogant and innocent, generous and pitiless. Feared and revered by those created him, he has already used his breath-taking talent for destruction to bring down the most powerful civilisation in the world. But Thomas Cale is weak. His soul is dying. As his body is wracked with convulsions he knows that the final judgment will not wait for a sick boy. As the day of reckoning draws close, Cale's sense of vengeance leads him back to the Sanctuary - and to confront the person he hates most in the world. Finally Cale must recognise that he is the incarnation of God's rage and decide if he will stand against the Sanctuary of the Redeemers and use his unique skill of laying waste to all things. The fate of mankind rests on Cale's decision.
Hoffman once again leans heavily on human history for inspiration and The War of the Roses (a la Game of Thrones) and the rise of the Third Reich influence the story heavily. The geography is still all over the place and, despite an attempt during the "preface" to explain things, it still remains one of my least favourite aspects and my most consistent reason for being annoyed at the book. For example, having Switzerland and Memphis so close to each other both felt wrong and resulted in the world seeming very small. I personally would have been happy for these places to have made-up names but still carry the traits of the nations they emulate (Guy Gavriel Kay does this consummately well).
And so to the ending, which I rather liked but can see why some may not. I've long been a fan of the more understated ending but many like a trilogy to reach an all-guns-blazing climax. And in this I do have sympathy for Paul Hoffman, and authors in general, as it is impossible to please everyone.
Before I continue though I must mention one thing that pissed me off more than anything else had done previously. Hoffman ends one chapter with Cale being stabbed through the heart. That made me sit up and take notice, which was the obvious intent, but the next chapter began with something like "or he would have stabbed him through the heart had he not slipped on a banana that was left behind by some bilious critic from the twenty-first century". Okay, the last part of the sentence is pure fabrication but the first part is not and it was a narrative device that only works when the show-stealing last sentence is actually true. Stephen King uses that device often and well, usually with something like, "it was the last time Tom saw Kate alive", which works because you're left wondering, "Why? What on earth is going to happen to her?" and this makes you carry on reading way past your normal bedtime to find out. What Hoffman did here was make me first sit up with interest only for that interest to turn to derision. It was monumentally naff.
You see, I'm off again. If this book had arrived from a first time author of whom I'd never read anything before I would probably be praising it highly but Hoffman seems intent, purposefully or not, of winding me up at least a dozen times a book. And I guess that is a good thing, as it's better than feeling nothing.
When the story finished I was left with a pleasant feeling of conclusion. I was glad I read the three books and they are probably much better books than my reviews get across but I am also glad to leave them behind and move onto something else. I'm very unlikely to read them again, although I must point out that I have read the first book three times, the second twice and the third once, so they can't be all bad can they? But I feel no inclination to visit this world again should there be more books published or indeed read anything by Hoffman again. Books should provoke reaction, be it positive or negative, and The Left Hand of God trilogy has certainly done that but I would struggle to recommend it in its entirety as so much irked me so often. To re-iterate the positive points from earlier reviews: The humour, dialogue and characterisation are very, very good and at times Hoffman produces brilliant, unforgettable moments. I'll never forget these books and especially the three main protagonists but it will always be with a sigh and an "if only…" thought. Maybe I simply, and unfairly, expected too much - but I am not alone.
Review by Floresiensis
7.5/10 from 1 reviews
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