||picked this book up off of the shelf for a silly reason: the cover blurb compared
it to Ender's Game. I love Ender's Game! So, despite the fact that I had never heard of Paul Hoffman, nor had I heard any
thing about the book, I took it home and read the whole thing in two days. The Left Hand of God is a fast paced adventure tale,
which reminded me a lot more of The Lies of Locke Lamora than it did of Ender's Game. It's not as good as Scott Lynch's book,
but it is a fun book to read.
Here's what is good about The Left Hand of God: Hoffman describes a dark, sinister fortress called the Sanctuary
of the Redeemer. Young orphan boys are dropped off here and are molded into warriors to the Redeemer cause, or else they perish, because
the Sanctuary is anything but a safe place. Hoffman does a terrific job conjuring up an evil place of fear and brutality, with shadows
and betrayals and sudden violence. In this dangerous environment we are introduced to Cale, and two of his friends, Vague Henri and Kleis.
The boys break strict rules to explore a mysterious tunnel that they have discovered in the Sanctuary walls - this triggers a series of
events from which there is no turning back. Ultimately, they are forced to flee from the Sanctuary, which of course is nearly impossible.
This is the best part of the book, Hoffman's imagination is really on display in the early chapters.
Once outside the Sanctuary, Cale and his comrades must make their way in an unfamilar world. However, unlike normal fantasy
novels that completely generate their own universe, Hoffman uses names and places that are taken directly from our world: for
example, the nearby city is called Memphis. There are references to the cities of York and Jerusalem. There is one mention of Norwegians, one
mention of the Middle East, and most peculiarly, one mention of Jesus of Nazareth. However, although the names are the same, none of the
locations in Hoffman's world seem to match their Earthly parallels. Memphis, for example is on a sea coast, and is near to the city of York,
which doesn't seem to be located in anything like England. I
found this very distracting. Each time I came across an Earth name, it would interrupt the flow of the story for a few moments as I pondered
Huh? What? Norwegians?? Presumably Hoffman will explain this unusual naming in subsequent volumes, but no explanation is hinted at in this book.
It turns out the Left Hand of God is the first book in a trilogy, though there is no mention of that on the cover. I wish that
had been clear, I do not like to start reading a series until it is complete, I don't want to get caught in a George RR Martin or Robert Jordan
cycle of endless waits between books.
I read the book at full speed, but now that it is over and I can reflect on events describe, I can see some plot flaws that
cause me to downgrade my rating of this novel from five stars down to four...
The events of the climatic battle ring false to me. The Materazzi are experienced soldiers who have conquered and controlled a large
empire, certainly the Materazzi army will have previously encountered an enemy that sets up a simple wall of pikes to stop their calvary charge - why don't
the horseman simply ride around the edge of pike line? The Materazzi foot soldiers are described as being so heavily armored that they can not stand
up once they fall - but that is ridiculous. Yes, knights in a saddle would be helpless if unhorsed, but no foot soldier is going to be so burdened with
armor that they can't regain their feet! How would these men ever march? Why can't the Materazzi foot soldiers step in between the pikes in the same
manner that the Redeemer soldiers do?
We are told that Cale has an incredible power to devise military strategy simply by looking at map. This is silly! Maps in medevial times
were wildly inaccurate, lacking in scale, geographic features and timeliness. Imagine creating a strategy based upon a map that is mostly "HERE BE DRAGONS".
Even worse, we learn that Cale has created the Redeemers master plan, and the Redeemers know that Cale is on the side of the Materazzi, and yet the Redeemers still
carry out the plan exactly as Cale devised it! Of course the Materazzi would know their every move ahead of time!
It also seems astounding that a successful, arrogant empire such as the Materazzi would allow a tiny, aggressive fortress (the Sanctuary) to exist outside
of its control, even when this mysterious fortress apparently fields large armies and is located right next to Memphis, the capitol of the empire!
...END SPOILER ALERT...
Overall The Left Hand of God is an impressive debut novel. It moves at a terrific pace, populated with some intriguing characters. I will read
the next volume whenever it may be written, but I am wary about the direction that the story line is heading - is it really the goal of the Redeemers simply to
kill everyone on the planet? The plot is in danger of drifting into the Maximum Implausibilty Zone.