“The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a vast and desolate place without joy or hope. Most of its occupants were taken there as boys and for years have endured the brutal regime of the Lord Redeemers whose cruelty and violence have one singular purpose – to serve in the name of the One True Faith.
In one of the Sanctuary’s vast and twisting maze of corridors stands a boy. He is perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old – he is not sure and neither is anyone else. He has long-forgotten his real name, but now they call him Thomas Cale.”
The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman has been held up to be one of the great fantasy debuts of 2010 and received rave reviews from other authors as well as more conventional reviewers. It received an extensive marketing campaign and was generally hailed before its release as one of those books that everyone MUST read. Unfortunately, since its release, many people have stepped forward to list the numerous ways in which it does not live up to the hype – and I’m afraid I must join their ranks.
There was some part of me almost determined to like The Left Hand of God, being as so many other people had declaimed the turgid prose, the stilted characterisation and the slightly baffling plot that leaves you wondering at the end why you have bothered to read four hundred odd pages when the main protagonist finds himself back where he started. However, this is a hard book to love – or even like very much.
Usually when writing a negative review I like to offer the points from the book that I did, at least, enjoy. Here I’m struggling to remember anything that moved my emotions. If all else fails and I can’t find any positive elements to focus on I will retreat to the comfort of mentioning the cover art – but here we have the much-derided hooded man (and I still remain childishly amused by the fact that the book is called The Left Hand of God but the character on the front is carrying that honking great sword in his right hand! Still just me? Well, alright then...)
My most damning comment on this book is one of apathy: I could very easily have put The Left Hand of God down at any point and not felt too dismayed at never knowing what happens at the end. Let me put this into context – I can count on one hand the books I have not finished. I feel that if the author has gone to the trouble of writing a novel, then I should respect their effort and give it a fair chance. With Paul Hoffman’s book it was only pig-headed stubbornness that had me turning the last page.
I did not enjoy the crazy mixed-up world building that had Memphis and York right next to each other. I do not know what Hoffman was trying to achieve: was he so lazy as to not be able to make up names for his cities? Or was he going for the truly symbolic and I just missed it? My over-riding impression is that Hoffman felt he was doing something ultra clever but it just came across as pretentious.
There have been a couple of books in recent times that I have read, wondering if he author (while writing the novel) had half an eye on the screenplay of the movie that would be made: The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows spring to mind. This book can now join their ranks. There are panoramic sweeping shots of the countryside described lovingly (a la The Lord of the Rings films); some market shots that bring to mind Tatooine; and some truly awful training montages that I can hear the inspirational 80s power chords for.
I hated the way that Hoffman dealt with women, including one cringe-making passage:
“Our skin must be without flaw, our hair shiny and manageable [which sounds like a hair care advert], we must have wide bright eyes, our cheeks pink, our breasts round and large, our buttocks large and smooth and between our legs, under our arms, nor anywhere else except our heads were we to permit the growth of a single hair. We must be always interested and charming and always smell of flowers. We must never be angry or scold or be critical of other people, but kind and affectionate and always ready with kisses and tenderness.”
“How,” asked Vipond, “did you practise your... tenderness? If you had no men?”
“On each other, sir.”
Oh come on, Mr Hoffman! Let’s first objectify women as sex objects and then throw in a little casual titillation. Way to go!
And I leave you with another quote that caught my eye: “As for smoking – it is a childish affectation: a habit loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, causes the breath to stink and makes any man who takes it for long enough effeminate.” That’s right, kids: smoking is BAD. Hoffman’s message here is extremely clumsy and almost shoe-horned into the plot for no good reason.
Harry Sidebottom (author of the Warrior of Rome series of books) states on the back of The Left Hand of God: “If you do not enjoy this book something has died in your soul.” Well, I’m proud to say that my soul is completely dead – and Paul Hoffman killed it. Avoid this book.