The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

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The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Alternative Earth fantasy drawing on a multitude of influences - Bookbag loved the premise and found it an absorbing read, but felt a slight lack of coherency in both style and plot.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Puffin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0141333553

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Cale is fourteen and his life so far has not been one to envy. Brought to the Redeemers' Sanctuary as just a toddler, he's lived within its militant religious fanaticism for all the years he can remember. Beaten, brutalised and half-starved, Cale and his fellow acolytes are being raised to fight an ongoing and bloody war against heretics. Cale is of special interest to Bosco, a Redeemer Lord Militant, and we soon realise why. Cale is intelligent, ruthless, quick, and has the ability to kill without remorse. He is an asset.

But one day Cale strays into the rooms of the Redeemer Lord of Discipline, only to find him dissecting two young girls. One is already dead. But one, horrifically, is still alive. And Cale makes a momentous decision. He kills the Lord of Discipline and rescues the girl. In the aftermath, Cale, his two friends Kleist and Vague Henri, and the rescued girl escape the Sanctuary and flee across wastelands to Memphis. Here, they encounter a society of wealth, indulgence and decadence, and everything changes.

But will the Redeemers let Cale go?

I really, really, really wanted to love The Left Hand of God. Its alternative Earth setting - perhaps even in some distant, devolved future? - and generally regressed social environment is right up my alley. I like the darkness of the initial themes. But the book lacks coherence - it begins in the Redeemers' Sanctuary, a place of horror, torture and deprivation. It's dark and grim and menacing. But by the time the three escapees have reached Memphis, everything's changed to a Pratchett-style irony and jokiness. There are unsettling pace changes through the different sections of the book, too, and a great many interesting plot lines are either left hanging or dismissed in a sentence as if they never mattered anyway. Why was the Lord of Discipline dissecting girls? Oh, he was just a different sort of psychopath - even the other pyschopaths with whom he lived disapproved of him. Oh, that's alright then. I only spent 300 pages wondering.

Sadly, the various parts of The Left Hand of God just didn't add up to a coherent whole for me and I was disappointed. I'm even confused about the target audience. The hardback was published under Penguin's Michael Joseph adult imprint but the paperback I'm reviewing is a Puffin. Presumably, then, it's intended for the crossover market. I think it will probably appeal greatly to teens - my own son has read it, loved it, and considers my criticisms to be the nit-picking of a deeply uncool parent who wouldn't know what made a good book if it got up and slapped her in the face with a wet fish. It has the kinds of settings he likes. It has the kinds of events he likes. What's not to like? What about consistent style, I say? What about neglected plot lines? Mere window dressing, he says. You're being petty. Perhaps he's right - The Left Hand of God did keep me reading. I was absorbed for much of the time. I was still disappointed, though. Sorry.

My thanks to the good people at Puffin for sending the book.

They might also enjoy Silverhorse by Lene Kaaberbol, a stunningly well-told thriller-fantasy with role reversal, a strong female lead character and some interesting questions about the nature of power. Bad Faith by Gillian Philip is a blend of love story, political thriller and murder mystery in this dystopian future book about religious fundamentalism.

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Buy The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman at


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