book review: the left hand of god

Paul Hoffman’s The Left Hand of God wasn’t really my cup of tea. It’s an alternate history (or sf) book about a boy who’s been brought up by this horrible cult to fight some unnamed Antagonists who then escapes with his (forbidden) friends out to the world. The whole thing felt like an amateurish take on Gene Wolfe’s (excellent) Book of the New Sun series.

Some of the things that annoyed me: Is it alternate history or SF? The city the three boys (and rescued girl) escape to is called Memphis and it’s unclear if this is the same Memphis that’s out in Egypt or not. There’s a desert, but the fort in York is a few days travel away. And Jesus of Nazareth was the guy who was in the belly of the whale. It feels like Hoffman was just pulling out historical names and places and slapping them down without any thought for how they’d interact. I think the Antagonists are Muslim analogues, but there are Jews that are just called Jews. It’s all very sloppy.

The Cult of the Hanged Redeemer is a cartoonishly dark take on Middle-Ages Christianity. So much so that I was sure the book was a fantasy novel. They eat gruel and get tortured and have to deal with their Original Sin and get flayed for breaking the rules. These are the ancestors of the Dan Brown Catholics. But Thomas Cale (the morally bereft thuggish anti-hero) got hit in the head as a young man and can tell what people are going to do in a fight, making him a preternatural killing machine.

Oh and he falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the Roman Empire governor analogue, but he’s so tortured and inarticulate. Oh noes. And apart from being a preternatural killer (demonstrated by his kicking the ass of the greatest fighter the Roman academy has produced in twenty years and then killing a hardened soldier who hates him in a gladiatorial duel) he’s a tactical genius and the battle in the end is lost due to other people’s incompetence and he does something heroic even though he’s so troubled.

I also hated the narrator’s voice. There’re these offhand implications that Cale will do great things and change the world, and these folksy “Oh but how could Cale know what she was thinking, the way we do?” kinds of asides that infuriated me.

And then the end of the book isn’t an ending but the point of departure for a series. A series I have no desire to read. Good thing I didn’t spend money on it. (It was a review copy from LibraryThing.)

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