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Monday, December 21, 2009

“The Left Hand of God” by Paul Hoffman (Reviewed by Robert Thompson and Liviu Suciu)

Order “The Left Hand of God” HERE
Read An Excerpt (pdf) HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Paul Hoffman is the author of two previous novels, “The Wisdom of Crocodiles”, which predicted the collapse of the world financial system, and “The Golden Age of Censorship”, a black comedy based on his experiences as a film censor. As a screenwriter, Paul has worked with Francis Ford Coppola, and is currently writing a film on the Life of Sir Walter Ralegh and a contemporary New York thriller. “The Left Hand of God” is the first volume in a new epic trilogy.

PLOT SUMMARY: The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a vast and desolate place—a place without joy or hope. Most of its occupants were taken there as boys and for years have endured the brutal regime of the Lord Redeemers whose cruelty and violence have one singular purpose—to serve in the name of the One True Faith.

In one of the Sanctuary's vast and twisting maze of corridors stands a fourteen-year-old boy. He has long-forgotten his real name, but is now called Thomas Cale. He is strange and secretive, witty and charming, violent and profoundly bloody-minded. He is so used to the cruelty that he seems immune, but soon he will open the wrong door at the wrong time and witness an act so terrible that he will have to leave this place, or die.

His only hope of survival is to escape across the arid Scablands to Memphis, a city the opposite of the Sanctuary in every way: breathtakingly beautiful, infinitely Godless, and deeply corrupt. But the Redeemers want Cale back at any price . . . not because of the secret he now knows but because of a much more terrifying secret he does not...

FORMAT/INFO:The Left Hand of God” is 448 pages long divided over forty-six numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person omniscient via numerous characters both major and minor, but mainly follows the protagonist, Thomas Cale. “The Left Hand of God” is the first volume in a trilogy, and concludes with a semi-cliffhanger and many questions left unanswered.

January 7, 2010 marks the UK Hardcover publication of “The Left Hand of God” via Michael Joseph. The US version will be published on June 15, 2010 via Dutton Adult.

ANALYSIS: Robert: Described by the publisher as “their biggest fiction debut of the decade” and the “first installment in a GROUNDBREAKING NEW SERIES of imaginative fiction”, Paul Hoffman’sThe Left Hand of God” is an over-hyped novel that never delivers on its immense expectations, but at the same time manages to be uniquely entertaining...

The problem with “The Left Hand of God” is that the novel is full of strange contrasts. For instance, how would one classify “The Left Hand of God”? The cover art, synopsis and secondary world filled with Redeemers, Antagonists, and the Materazzi implies epic fantasy, except for the complete lack of magic in the book, while the inclusion of such familiarities as Jesus of Nazareth, Mother Teresa, Jews, the Italian-influenced city Memphis, et cetera, points more towards historical fiction or alternate history. To complicate matters further, what age group is “The Left Hand of God” even targeting? Thanks to the author’s accessible writing style; youthful protagonists; coming-of-age story elements; light humor; and shallow world-building, characterization, and thematic examinations; much of the time I felt like I was reading a Young Adult novel. Yet because of the occasional obscenity, the use of complicated words I had never heard of let alone understood, and darker subject matter such as war, religion and murder, I would change my mind believing the book was more suited for older readers.

Other contrasts in “The Left Hand of God” includes the tone of the book which ranges wildly from humorous to witty to adventurous to serious without any real rhyme or reason; and fourteen/fifteen-year-old characters who at times acted their age, but more often than not, acted far removed from their teenage years. Because of these different contrasts, it’s almost impossible to describe “The Left Hand of God”, and I’m not sure who I would recommend the book to. The publisher describes the novel as a blend of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Harry Potter. I’ve never read The Name of the Rose, but I can see the Harry Potter comparison, while parts of the book reminded me of David Gemmell. As a whole though, “The Left Hand of God” is a novel that defies classification.

In spite of these strange contrasts, I had a hard time putting “The Left Hand of God” down once I started, and the novel was over long before I wanted it to end. Part of the reason is that I really enjoyed reading about Thomas Cale and the large & diverse cast of characters which included Vague Henri, Kleist, Riba, Redeemer Bosco, IdrisPukke, Chancellor Vipond, Arbell Swan-Neck, Captain Albin, Marshall Materazzi, etc. Secondly, even though the plot is full of such familiar ideas as war, fighting a duel, being picked on by bullies, falling in love, and so on, the flow of the story is so difficult to predict that I was constantly turning the pages in anticipation of what the author would do next. Finally, “The Left Hand of God” just left me wanting more. Most of the time when I’ve finished the first book in a trilogy, I have a sense of what the author is trying to accomplish and where the series is heading. After reading “The Left Hand of God” though, I have no clue as to what Paul Hoffman is trying to achieve or what direction he’s taking the trilogy, and for that alone I want to finish the series so I can find out...

Liviu: The Left Hand of God is a very inventive novel that reminded me mostly of Jack Vance in content and KJ Parker and Joe Abercrombie in style. The novel features strange human cultures similar in spirit to the ones introduced by Jack Vance in his various Gaean Reach novels - Night Lamp came to mind a lot though a multitude of weird human cultures invented by Mr. Vance kept popping in my head every time when I was reading about another set of people in The Left of Hand of God - but written in mostly a very understated cynical tone with occasional bursts of over-the-top rhetoric. As plot goes there are few sff novels that surprise me after a while but this one kept me guessing till the superb twist ending. I am undecided if the novel is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth reverted to pre-industrial levels, or in a weird alt-Earth since there are lots of references like "Norwegians, Gauleiter, Kiev, St. Stephen of Hungary, Jesus of Nazareth, Jews, Rabbis", lots of famous historical pop expressions like "quick as boiling an asparagus" and "in two shakes of a lamb's tail", but the geography is unclear so far, the cultures strange and the economic and technological levels relatively consistent to a pre-industrial setting.

As characters go, Cale starts as a mystery and as he has been trained to lie for survival from age five there is nothing to be taken as granted till the end of the novel, though we slowly learn this and that. His mentor, tormentor and protector, the powerful Redeemer Bosco is another mysterious figure who shapes to be a main mover of the action, while the rest of the characters are more of a "reacting/support" types but
as the ending reveals, we have just scratched the surface of what's going on. Finishing at a great stopping point, the only thing I deeply regret about The Left Hand of God is that its sequel is not available right now...

CONCLUSION: Robert: Paul Hoffman’sThe Left Hand of God” was a difficult novel to review. For one thing, I was vastly underwhelmed by the book due to unrealistic expectations caused by all of the hype surrounding the novel. For another, I felt the book’s lack of identity was a liability. I believe if you’re going to write a book for young adults, then write it for young adults. Be consistent. Don’t try to appeal to every demographic. On the flipside, thanks to likeable characters, an unpredictable and entertaining story, and a spellbinding sense of mystery regarding the direction of the series, I enjoyed “The Left Hand of God” enough that reading the sequels have become a priority. In closing, Paul Hoffman’sThe Left Hand of God” is a novel that both frustrates and entertains, but ultimately can be a rewarding experience as long as readers ignore the hype and let go of any expectations...

I read The Left Hand of God twice so far and I expect I will read it several times more as time passes. It is the kind of "blow me away" novel that comes only rarely for me - were it a 2009 novel it would me my top fantasy of the year and compete to be my top sff read with Transition - the only other blow me away 2009 sff novel out of 100+ 2009 sff releases I have read. Flawed here and there, sure; easy to pick on if you do not like it, again sure, but The Left Hand of God is such a great read that it beats more technically accomplished but lifeless novels by a mile...

As hype goes - it depends what you expect; since The Left Hand of God is not epic fantasy, if you expect another GRRM or Joe Abercrombie or Patrick Rothfuss, you will be disappointed though as mentioned its cynicism equals Mr. Abercrombie's novels in many places. It's not YA by any stretch of the imagination, though as with great books it can be read by a teenager and greatly enjoyed, so do not expect another JK Rowling either.

Truly unclassifiable in a short description, check the excerpt linked above and understand that its end marks just the beginning of the "fun" for Cale and his friends...

Highly, highly recommended and my first A++ novel of 2010.


kingofthenerds said...

Man, now I don't know what to think! Do I import in January or wait until June?

88dogs said...

I have just finished it in 2 days because I could not put it down. Cleverly put on my iphone as lure for you to read the first few chapters. Bought it without hesitation. Fabulous because it is different.

Anonymous said...

I just read it and I think it is average. I don't think there is enough character development and somehow, although it is 400+ pages, there is no depth to the narrative. The plot is like a string of sausages. This book obviously did not divide well - perhaps it should have been in a single volume format. I would wait; the sooner another comes out the better - this one by itself is annoying.

lee dutton said...

superb, just finished, i have to agree though that the second book will hopefully add more depth to what is already a great little page turner.

Amanda said...

I picked this book up on a whim knowing I had several hours to kill on the train home. As a result I had no expectations but how glad I am now that I bought this. What an amazing book. I understand why it is so hard to classify but it is a perfect combination in my mind and I read the entire thing in less than 2 days I simply could not put it down.

The book keeps you guessing without deviating from character as well as being dark with humourous outbursts and witty without being overly-clever. I must admit my fustration at having more questions than answers by the end but I am eagerly awaiting the second installment. A must-read for anyone.

Ninjafish said...

Having just read this book, I have to agree with our anonymous friend. This book is distinctly average. Having likewise finished the book in 2 days, I will say to it's credit that it is a compelling read most of the way through, it's just that by the last quarter there were several things that had started to irk me.

The geography of the world is incredibly vague and is not helped by the use of familiar place names and cultures. The Materazzi are clearly early renaissance Italian, whilst the story refers to York as one of their towns. This coupled with reference to Norwegians, Dutchmen and Jews, leaves you unsure as to whether this is supposed to be some kind of alternative history or just a sloppily imagined world. Don't get me wrong I'm all for a fantasy world having an air of undiscovered mystery to it, but this is not achieved by using places and peoples already familiar to most of us. If this is meant as an alternative earth, then it should be made a lot clearer that this is the case.

Oh, and the fact that the last battle is almost a 100% blow for blow ripoff of the battle of Agincourt(1415), really spoiled the end of what was supposed to be the climax of the book for me. Leading me to believe that the rest of the cultural references just come from a weak imagination.
On the other hand it could just be me being a history nerd.

Liviu said...

I appreciate all the comments here and as our dual review shows, opinions will be quite polarized on this one.

For me the mixture thrown in worked perfectly and the next book in this series jumped to a place in my top 10 anticipated novel of **** - hopefully 2011 but I have no real idea.

I thought too that the battle at the end was patterned on a famous medieval one though I was not sure it was Agincourt - and I am also pretty sure that the executioner in the village is based on a famous NKVD officer and there are lots of other reference from scattered historical periods; and again it just worked for me...

I am very curious how the book will do here in the US when it's released in the summer

Luis Javier said...

I've just finished it, it took me 4 hours, what doesn't mean a thing cause I like to start and finish a book in the same reading session, but the second I finished it, I was hooked to the laptop trying to figure out when the second book will be released.

Rigth now I fell quite frustrated cause I'm stuck waiting for GRRM and Routhfuss already, and now I will have to wait for Hoffman also.

I mostly concur with the review, but I feel that the most similar thing out there is KJ Parker, I find the book very reminiscent of the Scavenger trilogy, and for those of you out there who haven't read it, if you enjoyed this one you'll surely have a good time with the Scavenger's Trilogy (besides the three books are out there, so you won't have to wait.

Liviu said...

I am a big time KJ Parker fan - read all 11 novels including TFK - rv tbp next week or so and P&B which I reviewed here - and The Scavenger series has the potential of being my top finished fantasy series ever if in 3-4 years for now I feel the same as now, so I would not disagree about the comment above that much except to note that the styles of the two authors are quite different.

In addition to its mixture of content, TLoG has a mixture of styles too, but overall it has an "exuberant" - however dark - feel, while KJ Parker is very deadpan, understated with subtler humor and technical stuff here and there; though I agree 100% that if you like KJ Parker you should definitely try this one and if you like this one you should definitely try KJ Parker and especially Scavenger with which it resembles in theme to some extent

kli1991 said...

Spent all night and day reading it, just got hooked with the unpredictability of the plot constantly guessing where its going. Was wondering does any one know when the next book is coming? And has he said anything about them?

kli1991 said...

Just spent all day and night reading it. At first didn't know what to make of it but then just got hooked. I was wondering whether any one knows when the second book is coming out and has the author said anything about the book/trilogy?

bascule said...

Always being wary of the kind of hype this had attracted but intrigued nonetheless, I ordered it from the Library. Read it, enjoyed it, and was happy to gloss over it's failings, especially the Silbury Hill bits, I live less than 10 miles from the Hill and know the land around it well. I couldn't place the battlefield anywhere near it.

It was cliched and lightweight, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll definitely buy the second.

Ruby said...

I read this book in about 5-7 hours on a car trip overnight and was prepared to put it down. I thought at first the ending was awful until I googled it and found out it was the first in a trilogy.

I disagree that the book was shallow and found that charactrs had a distinct pull about them that encourage you to veiw them in the certain way. Overall I think the book is worth the read and I can't wait for the second one.

brookesblade said...

I brought this book not knowing what to expect, happily it turned out to be one of the most original books i have read in along time.
So good in fact i read it twice.
Now i am waiting in anticipation of the second book to find in which direction the story will take.

Liviu said...

More great comments and thank you all for letting us know about your opinion about this book.

I am keeping a very close eye on any info about the next installment.

sona3000 said...

I am a huge fantasy genre fan and I'd have to say that the book was an okay-okay read. Nothing great. I didn't even realise when it ended and I was yawning through the ending. But it's intriguing enough to go and get the 2nd and 3rd parts. I don't like the references to Jesus, Virgin Mary, Jews etc...if the author's going to the effort of creating another world, why doesn't he create other religions and incidences.

Anonymous said...

i highly enjoyed the book...if it's a page-turner, as all commentors have contested to despite the bizarre hyper-critical grumbling, what is the problem? enjoy it for what it is...a good read that will keep you interested til the very end. That's the best advice I can give you.

Dana Elmendorf said...

Usually I do not comment on such an old post but I am so grateful for your review I had to. I just finished reading THE LEFT HAND OF GOD and in searching for answers to my own questions about the book, I stumbled across your review. I am so happy to find other people were just as confused as to the historical vs alternate time, the oddities/clash of civilizations and hierarchies. There were parts I would give the story a 3 out of 5 then other parts were 5's for sure. I really am finding it difficult to formulate a review for the book myself. But as you stated, in the end, reading the trilogy will be a priority. Thanks for the review.

JonseyMcFly said...

I am kinda annoyed how most of you throw this off as a average book. With some vague reason. That to you sounds like a justifiable excuse. But like a lot of others on this forum. I finished the book in about 4 hours. Sadly due to life it couldn't be all in one sitting like i would of hoped.

One of you earlier Said that you do not this there is enough character development. Were The main character spends the biggest part of the book. Trying to change him self. And at the same time trying to change the feeling's of another person to were they eventually match. And you also have the character development of a So called simpleton given a advantage and eventually making his was to a respectable place in there society.

These were both well planned and wrote character transformation. A next point the same person maid. Was saying that the plot is like a string of sausages.

There were a few instances of incongruity. But that could just be for shadowing. The plot is a big puzzle. As Cale lies to them. The author also gives us little tid-bits. And beside describing near the end of the chapter the book keeps us in the dark about the true nature of why cale is so special. There could be a great bit more detail and Interaction wrote out. But the lack of it is not taking away from the story in the least.

The geography relies on the description in the name. AND THE MAP!! I ask you this how can geology be vauge when there is a map, With correct geological description. If you don't know that the lil bumps or things that look like a tree on a map stands for then... I shouldn't be making fun of you. Seriously the map is in ancient like style but with the same detail that you can tell what's going on... It's not Lord of the rings detailed. But i don't think you can compare much to that.

You seem to question the author on his world. The materazzi Do not seem like a single people in history to me... The way of there culture seems to be choice bits and pieces from other races. But unless the author get on here him sell to say all we can really do is think for are selves.

I hear a lot of crytasism on here for the addition of comical moments to the stark contrast of the Cruel and Dreadful. I find that the author Mixed it perfectly to were he could describe the worlds horros one chapter but leave you with out the soul crushing depression with lightness in the next.

I loved this book. Could it be better... Every Thing Can. If any thing i would like to see more length in the next one..

With out Deceit

Liviu said...

More great comments - thank you all for them; one thing to add is that very few series so intrigued me to their direction as this one and the next book is one of the biggest awaited for me

Jeff Bell said...

I just finished it and I thought it was extremely good. Although it dragged at some parts overall it was very intriguing and ended way before i wanted it to. I am greatly anticipating the release of the sequels. Does anyone know what the first sequel will be titled, so that i may keep an eye out for it.

Anonymous said...

So, err ...

What map?

Or is it only in the hardcover?

Liviu said...

thank you for more comments; i have no idea about the status of the sequel but i will update whenever I hear something.

There is a map in the book I've got but if it somehow misses from other editions it's here

Nikky said...

Thanks for the review.

I've just started the book and so far I'm enjoying it very much. It's enticing and different, plus it already has me online snooping around for information.

Most reviews I have read have usually picked on this book for it's "lack of identity" or how it defies 'classification'. My question is, is this really a liability?
Maybe the fact that it's type is so unusual and surprising should be something to be commended. After all, if it was book easy to define and classify, then there's nothing new and exciting about that is there? I like the idea of reading something that doesn't smoothly fit in to our predefined ideas of what books should be.

Then again, I've only read the first part of the book. Time will tell?

Laurenz said...

I find this very interesting to read. Just as the majority here, I found myself puzzled with the paradoxicalities within the novel. I won't be discussing the intended audience for this novel.

At first glance, one could be confused by the anachronistic nature of The Left Hand. Yet, if one digs deeper and incorporates the influences that have led to this book (see the Acknowledgements, but also movies such as 'The Gladiator', etc), the oppositions could be clarified. then again, there is no ‘one’ truth to this book, but here I give my representation of my read.

Firstly, the anachronisms. F.e. the smoking, the government of Memphis, ... could be seen as anachronisms to the intended medieval or end-of-the-renaissance time.

One could also argue that this landscape is a recovered post-apocalyptic one, where the redeemers have held a purgatorial cleansing and where all was swept off the face of the earth. Then the smoking, the ruling of the government, the diplomatic nature and the variety of independent institutes have survived, but some things had to be re-invented or re-gained. Such as medical knowledge, gesture language, etc… In this view the hanged-believer (a paradox on this Christian belief) could be seen as a new saviour.
Secondly, the notion religion. This notion is a rather ambivalent one. On the one hand, it renders all arguments useless. On the other hand, it is the core around which the story revolves.
I have to dig into the novel a bit more to find out what is really intended. Is he making a new religion (like Yoda in the UK)? Is he making fun of the Christian belief (in his protestant background)? Is he predicting a religious apocalypse? Is he not making fun of the Christian religion, but of the Islam – in the sense of the new atheists? Then again, this novel does not show us any proud atheist belief?
I hope these questions will find answering in ‘the four last things’ or the last book.

Anonymous said...

I just finished it and i was really bored during the last battle becasue it was a total copy of Bernard Cornwell's book "Azincourt" that describes a battle in the 15th century between the English bowmen and the Frankish armored men-at-arms.The book was average with only a small amount of adventure and bloody battles.I liked the rimes used by IddrisPukke but still.....

Liviu said...

Actually the copying has been done by everyone who wrote about Azincourt including Mr.Cornwell - Mr. Hoffman indicates some of his sources in The Last Four Things and he used a lot of references but I am pretty sure they are mostly classics

lydia said...

ok so my question is what is the name of the second installment of the book and when can i expect to buy it cuz i am ready to read it

Robert said...

Hi Lydia! The second book is called "The Last Four Things". It was released in the UK on April 28, 2011 (Order HERE). The US version comes out on August 4, 2011...

Anonymous said...

this book is crap. i regret the day that i spent my mony buying this book. the story line is not well develop.even the plot is messy. and last but not least the ending is sucks. can't beleive someone really like this book. so sad.

Chico said...

This book was awesome! I can't wait for the next one to come out!

isutalo said...

This book is an excellent piece of fantasy art! I really do not understand your complains about the world Hoffman invented. Why does it matter if the things are "mixed"?! I mean why should it follow a strict line when dealing with history? The book does not have even one boring part, it does not slow down even for a moment, while it stays completely unpredictable. Another info about the character Petar Brzica - he was a Croatian Quisling during the second world war and not an NKVD officer. With the described kind of knife, he was killing prisoners in a death camp.


Anonymous said...

IF U HAVENT READ THE BOOK DONT READ MY COMMENT (MAY CONTAIN SPOILER)hi there. i read the book and i really liked it but i need to know for a review how long did cale stay in coma and what part does the book explain about redeemer bosco experimenting on outher children what made cale so unique and ended up killing them.. i can't find it. thanks

Anonymous said...

does anyone know when the final book is released? i have read the left hand of god and the last four things brilliant cant wait for the third book

Liviu said...

I expect next year but have no confirmation yet

Anonymous said...

Oh . . . my . . . word!!! I was so disappointed when I turned the last page! Was hoping it's 'to be continued' So hopefully by the time I finish reading the 2nd one, the last book will be available! So looking forward to it.
(Timeframe and my train of thoughts might not make sense, but I bought The Left Hand of God late last year i.e. 2011 and only picked it up again now.)

Anonymous said...

i had just finished reading the first game of thrones book,and a friend handed me this book by paul hoffman,so i started reading and soon found out i didnt want to put it down.compared to g.o.t its an easy other ppl im a bit confused as to where it is set first i thought that like the sword of shannara it was set in a devastated earth.then maybe like the gor novels maybye in an alt earth.but wherever its set ive enjoyed it.thumbs up paul hoffman.

confused said...

Ive read all these comments but I must taking crazy pills! The map makes absolutely no sense when taking with the directions in the book. Like the redeemer's eastern front. Huh? According to the map that would be with memphis but clearly its indicated that its not. North and south traveling also make no sense- cale goes NORTH? to the lodge in treetops. ON the map its south. Why even include a map if your going to simply ignore it. Anyway the map still is one of the best art-drawn ive seen in fantasy novels in quite some time. The recognizable place names and references (like in religion)also confused me. Is this the distant past of earth, the distant future or even earth at all? That was a good confusion though. But please Mr. Hoffman your compass is broken!

Anonymous said...

i have info about the third book its not much but its a step from a friend in a high place,: the next book is called (the left hand of god): the angel of death. and is to be released on the 31 hanuary 2013.

Jezza said...

I thought the first book was excellent, and hard to put down. Sure it's full of maddening idiosyncrasies, like the place names which he pulls from all over the place. As a fellow Brit though, I can totally see the Author's wry sense of humour coming through in the absolute randomness of the place name selection. I recognized a lot of the more minor place names as coming from small English towns and villages that I know.

The more interesting aspect of this book for me though, was in the sub-text of the influence it derived from the Author's schooling in a strict Catholic environment. I also attended a positively medieval private school in England, and was exposed to many of the privations and terrors that provided the inspiration for this book. I am also of the same generation of the author, so found that the book worked on a very personal level for me.

The second book in the trilogy was, however, a big disappointment, with little of the thrilling cliff-hanger scenes or quirkiness of the first book. It seemed like it had been rushed out in order to cash in on the hubris of the first book's success. I am looking forward to the third in the series, if only to get some closure. The fact that it has been a long time in the writing can only be a good thing....I hope!

Liviu said...

thanks for more comments; the third book is definitely a 2013 release but I have conflicting titles and info so far - the latest title I've seen is something with Tiger Mountain and is scheduled for summer 13, though the Angel of Death or such title seems more likely


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