Review of THE LEFT HAND OF GOD by Paul Hoffman
Dutton, June 2010
Thomas Cale is one of many boys being trained by the Redeemers for their endless war against heretics and others. But Thomas is different. For some reason, he is singled out... both for punishment and for additional training. Still, when he kills a Lord Redeemer who was in the midst of vivisecting a living girl, Cale, along with two friends and the surviving girl, goes on the run, attempting to escape the Redeemers even though nobody has escaped them for centuries.
In the huge city of Memphis, Cale and his friends become familiar with the ruling family--and Cale falls for the beautiful Arbell, daughter of the Emperor. But the Redeemers are unwilling to allow Cale's escape. Even though it seems completely suicidal, they first kidnap Arbell, and then begin an invasion of the great empire. Because of his knowledge of the Redeemer plans, Cale is called upon to prepare a defense.
THE LEFT HAND OF GOD starts out strongly, with a truly disturbing and evil training grounds, a sort of anti-Hogworts. For me, though, the story bogs down once Cale and the others escape from the Redeemer Sanctuary. Cale is supposed to be a brilliant planner, but he doesn't seem to plan his own activities beyond seducing the beautiful Arbell. And the climactic battle scene bogs down literally, in a distant replay of the Battle of Agincourt (Hundred Years War between England and France). In the end, I found it hard to care much whether Cale was captured by the Redeemers, helped Memphis, loved by Arbell, or loyal to his friends (who certainly went beyond loyalty in their faith in him).
THE LEFT HAND OF GOD is the beginning of a trilogy and it's to be expected that some loose ends will be left dangling. Still, I was surprised that so many ends were introduced and then simply forgotten. The mute son of the Emperor threatened to become significant, but vanished from the story. IdrisPukke (besides the possibly amusing name) seems to exist to provide information to the reader and a sort of amused/cynical world view. The mysterious substance the vivisectionist-redeemer was collecting was never mentioned again. Riba, the rescued girl, vanishes from the story. Sure, many of these may be picked up in Vol. 2 or 3, but shouldn't characters wonder?
Paul Hoffman is a capable writer. LEFT HAND reads well, with an interesting alternate world and a lot of potential in they mysteriously capable Cale. Hoffman simply didn't seem to pull the pieces together, and the second half of the novel sagged pretty seriously.
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