A nominally young adult novel set in a dystopian world that mirrors our own past, The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman is a book of impressive vision and puzzling inconsistencies that ultimately provides a gruesome, but highly enjoyable read. The book follows the trials and travails of a young boy named Cale raised in a brutal dogmatic monastery of a twisted parody of Christianity. His life is forever changed upon witnessing a deed horrifying even to his own warped perspective.
The world has a religious martyr named the Hanged Redeemer, but this isn’t the cuddly Crucified Martyr we all know. The followers of this religion are engaged in a bloody civil war much like the Reformation period. Very little information is given about what the differences are between the Redeemers and the Antagonists (who don’t appear on camera), but we can loosely assume that the Redeemers are dogmatic quasi-Catholics and the Antagonists are revolutionary thinking quasi-Protestants. The Redeemers are headquartered at The Sanctuary, a place where children are taken from parents to be turned into brutal lifelong soldiers. There they eat boiled feet (?), are made to recite prayers that lose all meaning, and suffer constantly brutality under at the hands of the Redeemers. The book moves from the Sanctuary to the world at large, which is terrifying and awful in its indulgences rather than its depredations. The ambiguous quasi-historical nature of the book is intriguing, if occasionally puzzling, while some of the plot holes in the cultural fabrics that inhabit the world is puzzling in a more aggravating way. We’re told that the children eat terribly (and the feet of cadavers, potentially), yet they grow strong. The world’s most powerful nation is made up of heavily armored nobles that refuse to field archers or siege weapons, but have virtually conquered the world. These strange points annoy me, and perhaps will be answered later, but for now are quizzical stray steps from and otherwise dark quirky world.
The story progresses linearly, with certain plot points withheld until they become relevant. Other plot points are dangled at astute readers, but end up resulting in nothing. Hopefully, this is because they become relevant in a sequel, but it’s frustrating when they’re handled so brazenly. As for the parcels of story that come abruptly, the characters reluctance to disclose their full past is well-explained, but a few times this lack of information comes across as cheap. It’s easy to forgive a bit of chicanery, as the characters are interesting. The protagonist struggles between the harsh lessons of his life and the emerging gentler visions he sees. His comrades are amusing, though more archetypal than well-developed. The plot whisks along fast- sometimes too fast. Again, huge plot points drop on the reader like exposition filled anvils from the sky. It’s unsubtle, but it keeps the book from being dull. The climax itself is bizarrely devoid of anything but forced character involvement and oddly precise compared to the brutal and visceral violence early in the book. Yet, the aftermath of the book sets up a sequel in an interesting, and unexpected, way.
B-. As with many fantasy series, this book exists as much to set the stage as tell a story on its own. Despite my gripes, I found myself liking the story more the more I read. Similar to The Darkness That Comes Before the book is not without its faults, but it does plenty enough to pique my curiosity for reading its sequel. Check for a contest to give away some free copies of the novel.
The Left Hand of God Contest
You may have read the preceding review, or you may not have. It doesn’t matter either way, because you can play the contest regardless. The book’s title sound suitably fantasyish, doesn’t it? Well, that my friends is the basis of our contest. Come up with a description for “The Left Hand of God” to be used in an RPG setting. If it impresses our judges enough, you win a copy of the novel! You can make it a plot hook, crunch it out as a 4E item, or even make it an NPC (perhaps it can hang out with the Atropal). Just leave your entry in a comment (or a link to your entry in a comment) to enter.
Contest opens today and ends by the end of Friday, August 20th. Panel of judges will select their top 5 entries, and each of those entrants will win a copy of the novel Left Hand of God. Entrants must provide a valid email address to be eligible so we can contact the winners. Entries can be disqualified at our sole discretion (especially if they infringe upon existing content.)