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Thursday, August 4, 2011

"The Last Four Things" by Paul Hoffman (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order "The Last Four Things" HERE
Read FBC Review of The Left Hand of God

INTRODUCTION: Last year's The Left Hand of God was a novel that elicited very powerful but mixed responses; there were people that loathed it or thought it's the worst hyped debut of the year and there were people, including myself, that utterly loved it and thought it was awesome. So The Last Four Things was one the five novels I marked as must read, try and get a copy as soon as possible, etc for 2011 though I was a little apprehensive if the "magic" of The Left Hand of God will still be there for me, or the series will be exposed as "emperor's new clothes" as many others have claimed.

Once I opened it and I got entranced once more in the twisted world of Thomas Cale and the Redemeers, I applied my reading method for books I do not want to end - read 100 pages, reread them, read another 100 pages and then read the full 200, etc.

Due to circumstances I was not able to write this review for the earlier UK publication, so I postponed it for today's US publication and that added the time dimension since now after several months I can look back and evaluate it better.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I want to start by remarking that The Last Four Things is a book that most likely will have the same resonance as The Left Hand of God with the reader. You hated that, don't bother; you loved it, get this asap.

I make this claim since the things that distinguished The Left Hand of God from the run-of-the-mill dark bad boy fantasy that is in vogue today - the alternation of styles, from exuberant to really dark, the mostly superb word plays on the famous and infamous in history, the strange and occasionally merciless undertones and the twists and turns that truly made the next pages unpredictable are still there.

However there are some notable differences too. The Last Four Things has considerably more backstory and world building - and indeed things make sense and hang together eliminating one of my fears after the sketched world of the previous novel, namely that the author's world won't make sense in detail. But it does and here we see things like logistics, speed of communication, population sizes, etc, all adding depth and painting a full 3D picture.

The characters also get more texture, though the third person narrative allows Thomas Cale to still remain a mystery; now he is coming into his own, far from the scared boy genius of The Left of God, to the outwardly confident man that events if not age made him be. His master, tormentor and protector, Redemeer Bosco comes also into his own here and the novel is as much about his plans as about Thomas Cale's odyssey, so now we have two extremely powerful and larger than life characters not only one. And in a partly comic relief, partly wistful role, Kleist gets his own thread too, though I found it less interesting than the main Bosco/Cale one.

The other personages from the debut - Vague Henry, IdrisPukke, Vipond, Arbell and Conn Materazzi, etc - make also appearances and several more secondary but quite interesting characters are introduced too, while some of the scenes between them and Cale are utterly memorable and constitute a key to the ending which is another stunner. There was a point in the book where I thought I know what will happen and how The Last Four Things will end, but the author turned and surprised me once again making the trilogy ending another book to beg and cajole for as early a copy as possible.

"All but the kitchen sink" is still thrown in and The Last Four Things has some stuff that's even more outrageously funny than in The Left Hand of God, so I found myself shaking with laughter often, though the book is also pretty dark and not for the easily offended. The Pyramid of Lincoln and The Protocols of the Moderators of Antagonism - the Bosco ordered forgery to save his and Cale's bacon after the events in The Left Hand of God and Cale's defection - are among the many early "pearls" and the book abounds with these historical allusions as interpreted by the author.

In a very nice touch, the author has a great two page explanation about his sources, including famous philosophers, Catholic thinkers, poets, obscure manuals of war that are available online and one (in)famous speech of Saddam Hussein which seems to be on YouTube, speech that *** cribs in the book before ***. Since it's a Saddam speech, the last **** should be easily guessed at.

After some months have passed from finishing the novel, there is one weakness I missed in the emotion of the first read - The Last Four Things is ultimately a transitional middle book and while it has a clear theme and an ending to one of its main threads, we still remain a bit in the dark where all ultimately will go; as mentioned, I thought I had an idea, but the ending quickly disabused me of that.

Overall The Last Four Things (A++) takes the promise of The Left Hand of God and fulfills it in a more complex book with all the world building that was only hinted there, but keeping the narrative switches and the many twists, while the trilogy finale is something I really want asap...


shaneo52 said...

Hey Liviu, What would you compare these books too? Any ideas?

Liviu said...

Hard to say; the style alternates between very dark and dark but exuberant - comparing with releases that have a lot of violence and brutality like say Prince of Thorns, well Paul Hoffman books have more but the style masks it most of the time

The thing that threw many people off were the references - all but kitchen sink as I out it - to the historical famous and infamous; I liked it a lot but mileage varies on that

shaneo52 said...

Thanks Liviu, I'm having a hard time deciding what I want next after River of Shadows. It sounds different, I like the sound of that.

Chris McCormack said...

I have never ever stopped reading a book halfway through. Just given up - it seems such a waste. However I read the left hand of God and thought it raised enough of a decent story that it might go somewhere interesting.
However, I've just gotten to the point where Kliest has returned to Cale and that's it I'm done. The book is awful for so many reasons it's hard to list! The main thing that REALLY irritated me though was when "ladies parts" or sex were being described, the author said something trite like "and that's all we have to say about that". Yet he'll describe buggering 11 year old boys and eviscerating men on a battle field.
Plus the Bosco story is so ridiculous it's not even interesting. Avoid this at all costs.

Anonymous said...

When does Kleist return to Cale? I just finished the book and IICR Cale and Kleist don't meet at all.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know when the third book is coming out?

Liviu said...

no news so far; the publishers are pushing the mmpb of this one though so hopefully I will hear somethimg soon

Miryam said...

Chris McCormack might refer to Vague Henri, when he is captured by the Redeemers and brought back to the Sanctuary.
I agree with Chris, I'm at the exact same point of the book and it's becoming increasingly hard to read. I don't like to stop reading a book halfway through, but I might give up with The Last Four Things.
It's a shame, 'cause the first one, The Left Hand of God was really good.

Fishes said...

Its was agood read, like most book building the world & characters can really put readers on the back burner I have an imagination so a chapter of description gets old reall quick, ~ Chris McCormack "Fifty Shades of Grey" may suit you better.
The aspect of religion & powerful people destroying the masses truley disturbs me, shocked as I was these two books reinforce my strong disbelief & abject power.

Well Done Paul

Unknown said...

I just finished the Left Hand of God and I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. So much so that I finished it in two days. I well be picking up The Last Four Things immediately. While not as good story or character wise as Patrick Rothfuss's Kvothe novels, I found it well written and cannot imagine stopping the second book halfway through for any reason whatsoever. Well done Mr. Hoffman you have a new fan and my only regret is that I did not find this gem earlier.


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