Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: The Left Hand of God

The Left Hand of God, by Paul Hoffman
Hardcover: 372 pages
Publisher: Penguin USA (Dutton); ©2010
ISBN 10: 0-525-95131-5
ISBN 13: 978-0-525-95131-5
Copy: Penguin Group publicists

From inside the dust cover: In the Redeemer Sanctuary, the stronghold of a secretive sect of warrior monks, torture and death await the unsuccessful or disobedient. Raised by the Redeemers from early childhood like hundreds of other young captives, Thomas Cale has known only deprivation, punishment, and grueling training. He doesn't know that another world exists outside the fortress walls or even that secrets he can't imagine lurk behind the Sanctuary's many forbidden doorways. He doesn't know that his master Lord Bosco and the Sanctuary's Redeemers have been preparing for a holy war for centuries -- a holy war that is now imminent. And Cale doesn't know that he's been noticed and quietly cultivated.

And then, Cale decides to open a door.

It's a door that leads to one of the Redeemers' darkest secrets and a choice that is really no choice at all: certain death or daring escape. Adrift in the wider world for the first time in his young life, Cale soon finds himself in Memphis, the capital of culture -- and the den of Sin. It's there that Cale discovers his prodigious gift: violence. And he discovers that, after years of abuse at the hands of the Redeemers, his embittered heart is still capable of loving -- and breaking.

But the Redeemers won't accept the defection of their special subject without a fight. As the clash of civilizations that has been looming for thousands of years draws near, a world where the faithful are as brutal as the sinful looks to young Cale to decide its fate.

When I received this book in the mail, I wasn't sure what to think. There had been a fair amount of hype concerning the book, and some reviews that seemed to indicate that the amount of hype received was, perhaps, too generous. I'm glad I am fairly removed from that time -- the time of the original release -- because I can now look on the book fairly.

First, Hoffman opens the book with a great line -

"Listen. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie, for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary."

Yeah, it has some grim aspects to it. While there are a couple of POVs in the book, the lion's share of the reading follows Cale. The reader trails along with Cale, and friends, from the fretful and angst-ridden drudgery in the Sanctuary, to the daring escape across the Scablands and their rise through the society of Memphis, the most relevant city of the region. It is a slow process of revelation by which we discover what the true nature of the boys' lives, in the Sanctuary, was like and to what purposes they existed.

In Memphis, the reader bears witness to Thomas Cale's discovery of love. Like all young boys and girls, Cale also discovers love's twin - the pain of a broken heart. The reader follows these things through a standard third-person, limited, approach with some sprinkling of first-person insights, offered through the ponderings of Cale.

Indeed, the most developed character we see is Cale. The rest of the cast seem richly developed, perhaps because they conform to conventional expectations of them. People have read, and viewed, such characters before and, thus, familiarity brings the reader closer to an easy understanding of the characters than might have been otherwise.

A pet peeve of mine is the search for something "new" or "innovative" in a piece of fiction that, if not properly satisfied, must render a judgement of bad, poor or "m'eh" to a work. Seriously, "there is nothing new under the sun." Such innovation is an extreme rarity, so I prefer to simply work with what we have. All this having been said, Hoffman takes great handfuls of the familiar, and makes it work rather well.

Is the book worthy of all it's early hype? I have no idea. It is, however, worth reading.



Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Nicely put. Who can really say whether a book deserved the hype?

Really glad you felt the same. I always wonder if I'm right. :)

PeterWilliam said...

I've got to say, you and I are generally well aligned on sf&f. Every review of yours I've seen, given its a book I've read, I agree. You're generally right there on top of it, man.

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