A good enough read. It just could have been more.
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.
I started on the back-foot with this book. First of all it was bought as a present for me by the missus, and she rarely buys me fantasy books as she can’t remember what I’ve read (hey, sometimes I can’t remember). She’d seen it on the shelf in Tesco’s. Now that’s the second reason - a fantasy book in a national supermarket chain. You just want it to be superb. The final reason was that the cover rocks—I mean it is simply great and the luminaries that sing its praise in and outside of the cover. I really wanted to like it.
And in truth, there’s a lot to like about it.
The story starts in the Sanctuary of the Redeemers, a brutal monastery where young lads are raised in terrible conditions to serve God. We meet three friends—Thomas (Cale), our main character, Kleist and Vague Henri. The friends discover a dark secret within the Sanctuary and flee into the outside world where they travel to the city of Memphis. Whilst there they become embroiled in a Machiavellian world and the Holy War that the Redeemers plan to enact upon the sinners of the city.
Hoffman’s writing is engaging and easy to read and the main characters well designed and interesting. The interplay between the friends is enjoyable and often funny and I really enjoyed the ideas behind the Cale character. But the book feels like a work of two halves. The tone and style of the first part, where the boys are in the Sanctuary is bleak, tense and an absolute page-turner. It felt like a George RR Martin or Scott Lynch dark fantasy. But then when they leave the Sanctuary it starts getting a bit, well, silly. Cale’s character begins to feel inconsistent - at one stage he’s this rock-hard warrior, at another he’s a love-sick puppy and another he’s freaking out in a fight. It’s all explicable but it conveys a sense of patchiness.
Another issue is with the world design. Hoffman has this irritating habit of mixing real place names in with fantasy names, and of mixing real religious aspects with fantastical ones. Perhaps he’s doing something really clever or really ironic but it was lost on me. So the novel starts to feel part historical fantasy, part heroic fantasy and you’re left feeling dissatisfied. For example he has the city of Memphis, Cortina and York, then someplace called Somkheti and then somewhere called Fort Invincible. It’s the same with the names - we have Italian names mixed with British mixed with pure fantasy (Idris Pukke, Arbell, Vipond). Is it a big deal? Not really, but it just makes it appear lazy and poorly thought out, which given the praise it garners, simply isn’t good enough. There are some great scenes. Most of the part set in the Sanctuary, the battle at Silbury Hill in the finale and a lot of the interplay between the friends are well written and I enjoyed them. The book was a good enough read and has planted a degree of curiosity with regards the rest of the trilogy. It just could have been more, especially given the accolade showered upon it.
Ross Kitson, 6/10
I liked this book. I liked it a lot. If you were of a mind to go through the book, looking for contrivances and weaknesses, then you will never be searching for long. Yes, the book is flawed and the world, which is an alternate version of our own, confused me and I would hazard a guess that the author even confused himself on more than one occasion.
But to counteract these failings, indeed to relegate them to little more than asides, is a story arc and characters that are simply wonderful. Add to this the book’s opening, which is one of the most atmospheric and immersive I have ever read, and I am left with far more reasons to recommend than to dissuade.
The beginning is unquestionably the strongest section of the book and while the middle and end have good moments, once the walls of the Sanctuary are left behind the narrative loses a little of its power. However, I enjoyed every moment I was reading The Left Hand of God, never did I wish I was reading something else, doing something else, or ever thought of putting it down. So I would highly recommend this book but with the small caveat that you may need to have your disbelief well and truly suspended in order to enjoy it to its fullest.
1 positive reader review(s) for The Left Hand of God
Hanne from UK
I just finished the whole trilogy. "The Left hand of God" was a strong start. Since I have read a lot of different things I'm still looking for something different, something that can still captive my mind, so to speak. Even when English isn't my native language - I have read a lot already in English though, almost more than Dutch - I found what I sought in "The Left Hand of God". It ís different and at times a bit strange, but that was what kept me interested. I can't exactly say what I liked about it so much. There are things I really didn't like, too, (as there is the fate of my favorite character :p ) but somehow I had to go on reading. I was totally drawn to the story. I finished the 3th book yesterday and I feel a bit lost. I fear the whole trilogy might not be good reading for the occasional reader, but this first book might be strong enough to take you further once you are on that train. :) but surely it's gold for die hard readers, readers who look for something different and anyone who opens his or her mind for it.
Xavier from Austria
Completely agree. The first part of the book is outstanding, amongst the most atmospheric writing I have read in a long time. But once the Sanctuary is left behind and Memphis appears on the horizon the quality of the story becomes rather patchy. Still very good in places but it suffers in comparison to what has gone before. All in all though I would recommend it. This book's sequel, The Last Four Things, is rather disappointing but I will still be reading the third book as Paul Hoffman is an author that definitely has talent and is worth persevering with.
7.4/10 from 3 reviews